[Edu-sig] Advice: is python suitable?
barrett at stsci.edu
Thu Oct 7 16:11:17 CEST 2004
Peter Bowyer wrote:
> Hello list,
> This is semi off-topic, so I'd better introduce myself :-)
> I'm studying physics at the University of Southampton, and joined this
> list as I hope to use my final year project to create physics
> simulations in Python to aid students, or (even better) write course
> material to teach the students how to think about the physics concepts
> (and program at the same time...). That is still a year away, and I've
> not experimented much with Python yet to see how feasible it would be to
> do this kind of thing.
> This year I'm taking a course in computational physics, which allows the
> use of any programming language. The notes however are skewed towards
> the department's in-house languages (variations on BASIC and C). I'm
> hoping one of you could look at the course notes and tell me if there's
> anything here that is not possible to do in Python? They are at
> for the BASIC version, and
> for the C version.
I've been using Python for numerical work for over 8 years now without feeling
constained. Of course, I supplement Python with C which enables me to solve or
implement the 10% of the problems that Python does not do well, such as improved
numerical performance or very low level programming.
I'd suggest going to the SciPy website to get a feel for what is currently
available. They have made many numerical algorithms available to Python and to
Python's numerical extension models. One utility/application that you should
also take a look at in order to improve numerical performance is 'Weave', which
allows you to embed C code directly into your Python code. Weave will then
wrap, compile, and use this code fragment on-the-fly. This eliminates the need
for having to wrap your own C code to improve performance.
And finally, there is much work on improving the interface between C++ and
Python, so that your C++ classes appear transparently as Python classes. Python
is used as a steering language in this case and the C++ does all of the heavy
lifting. There is a massively parallel 3D hydrocode being developed at
Lawrence-Livermore Nat. Lab that is being implemented in this way. The benefit
of this approach is that the C++ classes can be used and tested interactively
via Python. Of course this is not possible in a pure C++ environment. This
approach provides a huge boost to productivity and reliability.
Paul Barrett, PhD Space Telescope Science Institute
Phone: 410-338-4475 ESS/Science Software Branch
FAX: 410-338-4767 Baltimore, MD 21218
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