- Doing Math
- Further Reading
When you first start Mathematica, you should see a "splash" screen with the Mathematica logo, version, and license information. When the program loads, you should see several objects on the screen. We will now describe what they are and what they do.
|You may wish to turn on your speakers (or bring headphones if you are in an STC). Mathematica uses audio cues to notify the user of errors, finished calculations, etc.|
A notebook is a collection of Mathematica statements, output, and graphics. The concept is like that of a "document" in a word processor. You enter information and commands into the notebook window, and the output (if any) is displayed there.
If the notebook has been modified since it was last saved, an asterisk (*) will appear in the title bar. To save your work, choose File->Save As... or File->Save.
If Mathematica is ready for new input, the cursor will flip sideways (see above). Just start typing to enter information. Try typing this (don't press return yet):
2 + 2
To tell Mathematica to evaluate this expression, hold down Shift and type Return. Since Mathematica is also a word processor, it needs to know if you want to evaluate the expression, or just insert a carriage return-linefeed. This can be quite confusing to the new user.
Enter or Shift-Return
Next, look at the blue symbols along the right side of the notebook. Each group of statements enclosed by the triangle-brackets () is called a cell. The cell is the smallest unit of work in Mathematica. A cell may contain input or output, math or comments, text or graphics.
Cells in Mathematica are like execution groups in Maple.
You should see a box with a lot of symbols floating on the right side of your Mathematica window. This is called a palette. Palettes allow you to easily insert complicated mathematical notation. For example, to compute the cube root of 34, you could click on the . Type 34, which should appear under the root sign. Then click on the small square above the root, and type 3 in the box. Finally, evaluate the expression.
Using the default palette, you can enter fractions, integrals, summations, matrices, subscripts, and most greek letters. Of course, there are many other palettes available - choose File->Palettes to see a list.
Mathematica is actually split into two conceptual pieces, the front-end and the kernel. When you start Mathematica, you are actually only starting the front-end.
The front-end handles input and output to the user, access to the file system, and creates graphics on your screen. Most users will deal primarily with the front-end.
The kernel does nearly all computation (excluding graphics rendering). When you evaluate any expression, the kernel does the hard work and sends the results back to the front-end, which then displays it in an attractive format for the user.
Most users will run the front-end and the kernel on the same computer. If your computer is connected to a network, you can run the kernel on a more powerful machine, while running the front-end on your favorite computer. To learn how to do this, choose Kernel->Kernel Configuration Options, click Add, and then click Help.
How to stop a runaway calculation:
This will bring up a menu that allows you to view the state of the kernel, abort the calculation, etc.
Mathematica has an excellent help system. To get general help, choose Help->Help Browser. Browse among the topics listed.
Mathematica comes with an excellent resource, The Mathematica Book. It is available through the Help Browser. See also the Getting Started section, which contains several excellent tutorials.