Mathematics & Science
Mathematica BasicsThe Environment
As you are probably already aware, Mathematica is one of a class of applications called computer algebra systems. With the right input it is capable of doing almost all of the mathematics you have learned in college so far, and much of what you have yet to learn! Its abilities come at a price, both financial, and in the effort you have to put into learning its interface. It is less forgiving than most software when it comes to minor differences in your input. A missing comma or brace can lead to serious, hard to track down errors, so it is essential that you pay careful attention to detail when you enter commands into the program.
When you interact with Mathematica, you do so by typing text commands into its front-end, which then sends these commands off to the core of the program, called the kernel. The kernel then executes the code you have entered, and returns the result to you through the front end-again. As you carry on this conversation with Mathematica's kernel, you will create a document, called a notebook, (file extension .nb) consisting of cells. These cells have two primary types, input cells, and output cells, (though many other cell types, such as text cells and graphic cells also exist.)
Input and output cells are numbered sequentially, usually in pairs, as you carry out your conversation with the kernel. These inputs and outputs are not tied in any way to the specific notebook you have open in front of you. They are tied to the session you have been having with the kernel. You could close a notebook and open a new one, and the numbering would pick up where the old notebook left off, provided the kernel was not terminated in the transition.
Getting Command Help
There are two main ways of obtaining help from Mathematica if you run into any questions about it's built in commands, etc.
While using Mathematica it is handy to be aware of a few typing shortcuts. (Note that on the Macintosh the COMMAND key would replace the CONTROL key in the discussion below.)
You're now finishing learning the Basics of the Mathematica Interface. You may now go to the first notebook, the Table of Contents for the Mathematica Basics Labs, or the Table of Contents for all of the Differential Equations Labs, or simply quit.
ODE Laboratories: A Sabbatical Project by Christopher A. Barker
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