NIST math text gets digital makeover

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is rewriting one of the agency's best-sellers, Abramowitz and Stegun's 'Handbook of Mathematical Functions with Formulas, Graphs and Mathematical Tables,' and putting it into an interactive digital format.

A beta release of five sample chapters of the new Digital Library of Mathematical Functions has been posted online. NIST expects to release the complete DLMF, with an additional 33 chapters, early next year. In the meantime, the agency is seeking feedback on the samples.

A 1,000-page, hard-copy edition containing more than 9,000 equations and 500 figures will also be published. The free online version will have interactive tools for rotating and zooming in on 3-D images. The visualizations can be used with free browser plug-ins designed to work with Virtual Reality Modeling Language. The online version will also have graphs that can be manipulated, tables of numerical values and math-aware searching.

The handbook made its first appearance in 1964, the year the Beatles came to America. It remains the most widely distributed NIST publication, with more than 1 million copies in print, and one of the most frequently cited works in mathematical literature. It still receives more than 1,600 citations a year in research literature. DLMF is intended to be the definitive reference work on special functions of applied mathematics.

'Special functions are 'special' because they occur very frequently in mathematical modeling of physical phenomena, from atomic physics to optics and water waves,' NIST said in announcing the beta release. 'These functions have also found applications in many other areas'for example, cryptography and signal analysis.'

The initial sample chapters online are Asymptotic Approximations, Gamma Function, Airy and Related Functions, Functions of Number Theory, and 3j, 6j, 9j Symbols. Additional chapters will run from Algebraic and Analytic Methods to Zeta and Related Functions.

The handbook received seed funding from the National Science Foundation and is being compiled and edited at NIST from the contributions of more than 50 subject-area experts.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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