Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

The Mathematica Story: A Scrapbook

Three Decades of Contributions to Invention, Discovery and Education

Ted Young, Professor, Delft University of Technology

I have been a Professor of Applied Physics at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands since 1981. As one of the first in our department to be “vigilant” for software packages that could contribute significantly to our research and teaching–I came across Numerical Recipes in 1987–I was delighted when I stumbled across Mathematica a year later. That prompted the following letter on 30 November 1988 to every member of our faculty:

“While I was in California this summer I came across a new software package, Mathematica, that was written by a physicist (Stephen Wolfram) for physicists and civilians. This package represents a completely different approach to mathematics and–in my opinion–should be available to every researcher and every student in our department. I purchased Mathematica this summer for $690 and have been using it since on my Macintosh II computer.

My enthusiasm for Mathematica is shared by many. In the enclosed article from the most recent edition of Nature [1988] the reviewer (William H. Press of Harvard) says flatly, ‘Mathematica is a startlingly good tool. Research groups… should acquire it.'”

Early the next year I mentioned Mathematica to Prof. Alex Lande, a mathematician at the University of Groningen in the north of The Netherlands. He was curious about it and gave me a small problem to test Mathematica‘s integration capabilities.

A bit later Stephen Wolfram came to Delft to discuss and demonstrate Mathematica. He was received like a rock star, at least I thought so.

For the past 25 years I have used Mathematica extensively for both research and teaching. This has represented a progression of platforms (mostly from Apple) and the inevitable and welcome improvements. I do, however, miss the Signals and Systems Pack although most of the functions are now built in.

The last time I constructed a major lecture using Mathematica was in December 2012 to demonstrate the Gerschberg algorithm for non-invasive imaging as it was used in the cover story in Nature Vol. 491, 2012. My students loved it and the tools in Mathematica made it possible to put the entire lecture together in a very short time.

The last time I used Mathematica (Version 9.0.1) for research was to develop a new high-speed algorithm for doing fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM). And that was just a few weeks ago.

So 25 years on, I remain an advocate for Mathematica, grateful for its capabilities. Levers amplify our mechanical capabilities; Mathematica amplifies my mathematical capabilities.