Thursday, May 21, 2009

Geology Search Using Wolfram Alpha

The much hyped engine is here.

Is Wolfram Alpha a search engine?

No. It's a computational knowledge engine: it generates output by doing computations from its own internal knowledge base, instead of searching the web and returning links.

Input: Calcite Aragonite Dolomite

Results: Wolfram Alpha

You can compare any mineral this way and get a table of properties. A similar search using rock names for example basalt granite gabbro brings up a table with the thermal and mechanical properties. Not all rock types yield a satisfactory answer. I tried to compare sandstone and limestone and there was partial data only for chalk. Queries like olivine solidus or melting temperature granite got no results.

You can do computation with the quantitative attributes.

tensile strength basalt / granite

density coesite /quartz

That is the aim of Wolfram Alpha- to make it possible to compute anything that is computable.

Queries like earthquakes yields a lot of info. You can get a translation of the Richter scale in energy equivalents and earthquake information for any country like the one I tried for India below.

Results: Wolfram Alpha

There were some surprises. I queried dinosaurs and apparently their database has enough information to compare weights of different dinosaur species. Want to know whether Brontosaurus or T. Rex was heavier. Just provide the species name!

Don't try to use this as a geology term dictionary. You will come up empty for most types of inputs. It's not meant to be that kind of reference.

There were humorous moments:

Results: Wolfram Alpha

No geological time information? There is but you have to put in a numerical input:

Results: Wolfram Alpha

It works best with pieces of information that have quantitative attributes to it. For more general knowledge and descriptive queries you will have to stick to Google or whichever other web source you prefer.

W Alpha is still in Beta according to the makers and always will be.

It was fun. Try it out. I don't anticipate using it a whole lot, at least not as much as a regular search engine.

Economist has a article on it and CNET has a bunch of reviews.

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