Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

The Mathematica Story: A Scrapbook

Three Decades of Contributions to Invention, Discovery and Education

Grant Bunker, Professor of Physics

I was a beta tester for the first version of Mathematica in 1988, and have used Mathematica more or less daily for the last 25 years for teaching, research (mostly synchrotron radiation biophysics, X-ray spectroscopy), data analysis and modeling, instrument design, project management, administrative and financial modeling, sound and waveform synthesis, graphics and design, image processing, and many other things. It’s my single most essential tool, apart from email. Several years ago I wrote a book on X-ray spectroscopy, and although the publisher required LaTeX, I used Mathematica to create all of the graphics, generate some TeX code (especially for tables), and the book embeds many compact illustrative and executable Mathematica programs that I wrote.

I just now (late April 2013) located and fired up some of my Mathematica notebooks dating from 1989, and they load up and render 2D and 3D graphics perfectly in the front end, and they also execute with virtually no modification. This is after Macs have gone through three major changes in computer architecture (Motorola 680xx –> PowerPC –> Intel). The portability and longevity is impressive. It’s a testament to the sound design philosophy, and also its execution by the Wolfram team.

Back in 1988 computer resources were absurdly limited by today’s standards. Although nowadays I occasionally use PCs and Linux, I was and continue to be primarily a Macintosh user. The Mac at that time had the advantage that it could address several megabytes of RAM, while PCs could only address 640 KB, i.e. less than one MB, too little to run Mathematica. I remember spending about $800 (!) to buy 4 MB (!) of RAM for my Mac II, primarily to run Mathematica and the CAChe Worksystem.

About 20 years ago, while lecturing in Beijing, I remember writing a pretty simple Mathematica program to render and animate (to do rotations) stereo 3D graphics, for viewing protein molecular structures on my Powerbook 180 (you can train your eyes to view side-by-side plots in stereo). I thought it was pretty cool to be able to do that. A few years later I also bought a NeXTStation, in no small part because Mathematica was bundled with it.

I thank Stephen and his team for many happy insights obtained using Mathematica. I hope to continue using Mathematica as a thinking tool (i.e. a tool that helps me think, and also as a tool that thinks) for the next 25 years.

Happy anniversary.