We have used Mathematica at IWU for a long, long time. I remember using it in Linear Algebra when I was a student back in the mid 90s. It was a bit cumbersome and you needed to learn the programming syntax, but it did the job.
This week, we learned that this software has really come of age. A Wolfram rep named Justin came to Bloomington to show us what is possible with the latest version. He used a Mathematica notebook to give his presentation, a welcome departure from the typical static, linear Powerpoint slideshow. Justin also demonstrated some cool tools for manipulating models, making charts, and constructing documents directly within Mathematica. I was most impressed by the amazing amount of data that is being curated by Wolfram. It is now possible to call functions that connect to a server over the web and pull in huge datasets based on cities, nations, chemistry, and astrophysics, among others. There are also thousands of pre-made demonstration files that can be downloaded for free. They have even released a free Player application that allows you to run and manipulate the demo files without a full copy of Mathematica.
I’m anxious to have him back to do the same talk for some folks outside of math and science. There are a lot of applications here for economists and political scientists in particular. In the time since I last used this tool, Wolfram has built an impressive engine for analysis – an engine we already pay for – that we can do a much better job of exploiting here at Illinois Wesleyan.