Gray Matter at Wolfram Research

April 1, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More

Wolfram ResearchAs I promised, I have visited the Periodic Table Table on the penultimate floor of the Wolfram Research building. This is a fairly tall building for Champaign, IL and contains some serious brains. We walked in, rode up to the top floor, and asked to see “The Elementary Mr. Gray.”

The receptionist chuckled, made sure that I claimed to have an appointment, and called down to the co-founder and interface designer for Mathematica Software, Theodore Gray. We were escorted down to his spacious office area, in which samples of every element in the universe are kept. Many on open display.

One COrner of the Office

Big SamplesI had budgeted 2 hours, and had to tear myself away after 3. There were huge samples of some things like 99.999999% pure silicon and a massive block of magnesium. There were pretty and ingenious samples of others. The pictures he took for PeriodicTable.com are excellent, but seeing them and holding them is an order of magnitude more impressive.

I got to hold a nice chunk of depleted Uranium (kept in the safe with the gold and platinum and antique samples). Heavy stuff, and almost as big as my sample of equally heavy tungsten. Maybe I should mention the layers of security and cameras, in case anyone gets acquisitive.

PeriodicTableTable and its creator

Notice the lead pipe over by Hydrogen? It was last seen on my patio, and now is part of this collection.

I hadn’t realized that this brain trust is where Hollywood went to get correct math for the TV show Numb3rs. Wolfram staff may not criticize the inaccurate applications, but at least they make sure the formulas written by the actors match what they say they are doing and look cool.

I often regret not having gotten a job at a brain trust back when I was young and quick. It was nice to visit such a place and to be made to feel a collegue.

So, how shall I spin this as a serious post? Real science is a matter of playing with reality and seeing what makes it tick. To understand matter, one should see what there is of it. To understand the mathematical models on which our standard of living depends, it is good to know some real math. I find comfort in knowning that those who really know the math have fun with it.

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Category: computers, Entertainment, Humor, Media, nature, Science, Software, travel, Whimsy

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    Now that Theo has a new book out on Molecules, I thought to mention that one of my (MrTitanium’s) pieces is on page 60 of his first book on Elements as a result of this visit.

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