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Mathematica's benefits and difficulties

Posted 1 year ago
13 Replies
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Hi! We are college students and we are doing a project that we have to talk about the software Mathematica. We would like to know the difficulties and benefits that you found while using the program. Thank you!!

13 Replies

Amanda, your question is quite broad. There is so much to talk about it that it looks like people just didn't say anything. I'll just provide a few starting points here:


  • Can be perceived as having a steep learning curve due to:
    • the very large number of functions it has.
    • having a syntax very different to other programming languages.
    • being designed around the idea of typing commands (i.e programming) to get answers.
    • Lots of shortcut notations: @, //, /@, &, #, @@@, @@, /*, etc.


  • Notebooks: so much better that a soup of files in a directory.
  • Very high level homoiconic programming language allows solving problems (with or without advanced math) with a fraction of the code needed in other languages.
  • Excellent documentation with live examples.
  • Most specialized functions are built in (multiprocessing, report generation, controls, etc). No need to purchase extra toolboxes for everything. This is not only good for your pocket, but also encourages you to explore beyond your comfort zone and expand your knowledge.
  • Consistently follows design principles like automation and consistency of commands names.
  • Interactivity is easy with commands like Manipulate.
  • Very powerful nested data manipulation with Query and related commands.

Thanks to Gustavo for his answer.

When I first saw the question, I thought that I would need a lot of time to compose an answer, but his response is pretty much to the point.

A couple of additions: For me, at least, programming in Mathematica mirrors how I think, so even though the syntax is different from other languages like c, the learning curve is not as steep as you might think.

In addition, Mathematica supports natural language input, which can be thought of as training wheels for mastery. Mathematica will show you the proper syntax for what you type (within reason). So, you can type "plot sin of x", and Mathematica will show you a plot (with typical limits), and provide the Mathematica syntax "Plot[Sin[x], {x, 0, 6}]" that you can use next time.

I have been using Mathematica since version 1.1, and writing code in other languages for a very long time. The only real 'con' to the language is that it is difficult to write stand alone (e.g., "shrink-wrapped") apps with it.

It is the greatest invention in the last century. The only disadvantage as I think it doesn't support big Integer like java.


Mathematica supports arbitrary precision -- so it supports way bigger integers than java or practically any other language.

I have carried out iterations with numbers with 100 significant digits studying chaos theory, for example. The time it took was not significantly greater than using machine precision floating point numbers.

And -- I just checked -- it will compute and give an exact result for 1000000! in less than a second.

You are limited only by the amount of RAM available.

Apart from the system itself there are (IMHO) three very important PROS:

  • Mathematica comes as just one package (as Gustavo already pointed out); you do not have to buy for any type of problem an extra package - a nightmare one can find e.g. here !
  • Mathematica runs on all common operating systems (MacOS, Linux, even Windows). Notebooks can be interchanged without any problem!
  • When you change to another institution/company where there is no Mathematica license your experience is not lost: Wolfram offers e.g. a home user license for a very reasonable price!

Of course there is a definite CON too:

  • After getting used to the power of WL it will be difficult to change to some other language!
Posted 1 year ago

Thank everyone for the debate, it helped us a lot!!! Our focus on this project is to talk about this software applied to Chemical Engineering. Does someone know some other material regarding this area? Thanks again!

Amanda did you try to do any research on the subject before asking this question, for example a simple search engine query? That is recommended by the forum rules:

The site has a large number of contributions in or related to chemical engineering.

Kapio --

I think people get a different (better) impression of Mathematica on this forum -- people who actually use the product. You can only get so much from marketing pages, etc.

I, for one, am happy to help. My only contact with chemical engineering, though, is my brother, who got a Ph.D in it in the 1970s, and who told me that he wished he had Mathematica back in the dark ages.

Search engine queries can be a mine field, especially for some fields. I just googled "Mathematica and Chemical Engineering", and the first seven entries were links to material from the Wolfram Website. Here, you can get information from 'real people'.

Your question is not clearly enough framed. For example, do you want to consider the issue of cost? (Mathematica is very expensive, although not necessarily more expensive than a certain other mathematical system M****b.) Or whether the code is open-source vs. proprietary? (Most of Mathematica's code is proprietary.)

Or are you asking only about inherent properties of the product?

For the latter, do you want to highlight benefits and difficulties as compared with those of another application? For example, Mathematica for the most part uses verbose names for built-in functions and other entities, while rival products tend to use rather short names. (So it's a matter of using memorable names but having to type more characters vs. often cryptic names but typing less.)

If you do want to make a comparison, which your question suggests but does not directly say, then the best way would be to take one or two specific examples of something you want to do and then do it in Mathematica, on the one hand, and in some competing application(s), on the other hand. Otherwise, general statements about benefits and difficulties can be non-transparent.

Posted 1 year ago

Thank you for the explanation. What I was looking for is exactly that Kapio wrote. My main concern is to verify the benefits of using a Mathematica and its tools and codes for several Chemical Engineering applications. For example, for modeling a molecular structure of a new product. Yes, I am worried about costs, but only for analyzing the CB.

I´d like to thank everyone that contributed to the information and discussions!

For now, it is enough to finish our reporter.

Amanda, although you mention that you have enough information for your assignment, I would like to add my own "success" with the Wolfram language. I have written a notebook, with an additional package, for teaching a course with the following benefits:

  • a Working and a Presentation mode, so I can hide the program code
  • slide text and demonstrations are in the same document, so no switching between two different programs
  • the attendees can use the hand-on demonstrations in the Wolfram Cloud
  • it makes a 100+ page PDF file as course material, with working links to the Wolfram Cloud demonstrations.

I find this quite powerful for a single all-in-one notebook.

Posted 1 year ago

Thank you, Mr. Romke! It seems to be very interesting. I would like to hear more about that. If possible, could you send more information?

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