Computer Tools and Software

At Dickinson College, we use computers extensively throughout the physics curriculum. In the introductory courses, students become familiar with a suite of measurement tools that allow the real-time collection, display and analysis of various physical properties. These include force, position, velocity, acceleration, temperature, voltage, current, and magnetic field. In addition, students learn digital video capture and analysis techniques for the analysis of 1D and 2D motions in both laboratory and real world settings. Students also make frequent use of spreadsheets to develop mathematical models of their experimental data as well as to work with simple differential equations. The suite of computer-based software and hardware tools for data acquisition include: (1) Excel, (2) LoggerPro software for use with LabPro interfaces and sensors as well as for basic analysis of digital video clips, (3) VideoPoint and VP Capture.

For more advanced work, there are a number of other programs that the department makes use of. Some of the most useful of these programs are listed below with a brief description.

Maple is a computer algebra system that can do an amazing variety of things from making graphs in two and three dimensions to solving differential equations both symbolically and numerically. This program is available on all the lab machines in the department. We have had a little trouble with this program running a bit slowly on the lab computers. For questions about this program, see Professor Kerry Browne.

Mathematica is another computer algebra system that can do an amazing variety of things from making graphs in two and three dimensions to solving differential equations both symbolically and numerically. This program is not available on all the machines in the department. For questions about this program.

LabView is a very advanced program that combines data acquisition in a graphical programming environment. This program is used in many of the research labs in the department and is used in the computer interfacing class. For questions about this program, see Professor Hans Pfister or Professor Kerry Browne.

IDL is an array based programming and visualization environment that can handle extremely large arrays with relative ease. This program is only available on a few machines in the department. For questions about this program, see Professor David Jackson.

Igor Pro is a spreadsheet-like programming environment that has built in graphical capabilities. This program is only available on certain machines in the department. For questions on this program, see Professor Lars English.

In addition to the above programs, there are also a suite of freeware programs available on most of the machines in the department. The most common of these are listed below along with a brief description:

LaTeX is a high-quality typesetting system with features designed for the production of technical and scientific publications. We have installed TeXShop on most of the machines in the department. For help on using this program, please see Professor David Jackson or consult one of the many online guides (for example, www.giss.nasa.gov/latex).

Gnuplot is a command line graphing program that can handle very large data sets and can produce professional quality graphics. This program is invoked from within X11 by typing gnuplot. For help on using this program, consult the online manual.

Xfig is a drawing program (similar to Adobe Illustrator) that can produce output in many formats including postscript. This program is invoked from within X11 by typing xfig.

Gimp is a photoediting program (similar to Adobe Photoshop) that can read many formats including postscript. This program is invoked from within X11 by typing gimp.

IRAF is the Image Reduction and Analysis Facility, a general purpose software system for the reduction and analysis of astronomical data. This program is only available in the Astronomy research lab.