Erin Dahlgren

Fieldnotes On Scientific Notebooks

I remember when Stephen Wolfram came to Chicago to demo Wolfram Mathematica to the computer science department for the first time. That was when R was the most popular system for interactively visualizing data in the form of plots, graphs, and grids.

Nowadays interactive “scientific notebooks” are even more widespread. New systems like IPython and Jupyter have the same basic ethos of R and Wolfram Mathematica but they work with many different programming languages and are open to customization.

I learned from students that many of the new scientific notebooks have different behaviors but all have a similar look and feel. For these students, it was frustrating to be constantly switching between superficially different environments, especially when some user interfaces were clearly better than others.

Through Bold Public Code, I’m doing a brief study of scientific notebooks to determine what a high-quality minimal scientific notebook frontend would look like. This frontend would be a consistent user interface to scientific notebooks instead of the frustrating plethora of interfaces that exist today. Other technologies would plug into this frontend, discouraging new notebooks from reinventing the wheel.

This project is maintained by edahlgren