Use Wolfram Alpha to find out everything Google can’t tell you

But we admit "Wolfram Alpha-ing" isn't as easy to say as "googling."
Passengers commercial airplane flying above clouds, side view. Concept of fast modern travel

Google is synonymous with search, but it’s not the only option for online queries. You probably know about Bing, and maybe you’ve heard of DuckDuckGo, but there’s also Wolfram Alpha, which aims to return instant answers to difficult questions instead of a list of matching web pages.

It’s a totally different kind of search engine—covering everything from math formulas to personal health in an accessible way—and here’s what it’s capable of.

Help with your daily life

Use a query like “walking 45 minutes, 4 miles per hour” to work out just how many calories your morning run or walk is going to burn. Those values can be adjusted as necessary, or you can replace time with distance traveled. Wolfram Alpha will also show you how much fat you can expect to burn and what your estimated heart rate will be.

Part of any healthy lifestyle involves eating right, and if you type the name of any food into the Wolfram Alpha search box, the wealth of data you get back will include the fat, cholesterol, sodium, and protein it contains. To compare foods, use a comma (“tea, coffee”).

Wolfram Alpha can even help you prepare meals. Try a search like “time to cook a 20-pound turkey” to get an estimate of how long you can expect to leave the bird in the oven. You can also ask the search engine how many people that turkey, or any other food, can be expected to serve, how big a turkey you’ll need to feed a certain number of people, or how long something will take to thaw out from frozen.

Continuing with the household theme, Wolfram Alpha can work out mortgage prices with a query like “mortgage $150,000, 6.5% interest, 30 years.” That’ll return monthly payments, total interest paid, and other bits of information to help you make an educated choice. Google will try to find a website that answers the same question, but Wolfram Alpha presents the data in a much better way.

Get estimates of gas prices too, with something like “16 gallons of gas in New York City,” or “price of gasoline in Dallas,” which will give you historical prices as well as the current one. Want to know if you’d be better off living somewhere else? Try a query like “cost of living index Las Vegas vs. Los Angeles,” to find out.

Wolfram Alpha can also return information on tire sizes (try asking, “tire size 225/75R16, tire size LT215/85R17” to compare two types), construction material dimensions (“1/2 inch bolt,” for example), and even the properties of ropes (like “water absorption of 28 millimeter sisal rope”)—so whatever DIY project you’ve got going on, the search engine should be able to lend a hand.

Information about society and culture

Wolfram Alpha
By George, look at all those results. David Nield

Interestingly, Wolfram Alpha handles numerous society and culture searches better than Google does. Queries like “famous people named George” or “facts about Rembrandt” will bring up a concise list of helpful responses.

Type in the name of a TV network, such as ABC or CBS, and Wolfram Alpha will return a host of useful information, from the station’s founding date to its U.S. household reach. It will even throw in the current logo for good measure. As with most Wolfram Alpha queries, you can compare TV networks by separating them with a comma: “ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX,” for example.

In addition to providing plenty of details on specific celebrities, Wolfram Alpha is also good at finding movies or TV shows that particular people teamed up on. It’ll handle a complex query like “films with Bill Murray and Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman” better than Google, for example.

If you’re more interested in historical events than modern culture, inputting “founding of Carthage, fall of Constantinople,” or whatever events you like, will bring up a visual timeline and a few key facts about each search term. Click on the individual events to find the dates, countries, and people involved.

Another neat trick Wolfram Alpha can do is figuring out how much a given amount of today’s U.S. dollars would be worth in a historical context, or vice versa. To see what we mean, type in “US$2500 (1950 U.S. dollars)” to see what $2,500 in 1950 would be worth today, or “10,000 current U.S. dollars in 1910” to see what $10,000 today would have been worth more than a century ago.

Wolfram Alpha’s talents even extend to words and linguistics. For instance, use queries such as “_al__la__” to find words that match a particular pattern (each underscore serves as a wildcard) or “words that rhyme with sight” to find rhymes. You can look up definitions and synonyms just as you can with Google, too.

Get science and technology data

Woflram Alpha
Ah yes, the ol’ Thirlmere Aqueduct unit of measurement. David Nield

Wolfram Alpha does unit conversions just as well as Google, but it lets you dig much deeper. For instance, try a search along the lines of “20 miles + 24 kilometers” to get the answer in miles, kilometers, centimeters, nautical miles, and even how that distance compares to a marathon race or a Formula One track lap.

Physics queries are well-handled, too, including those involving thermodynamics, mechanical work, gravitational calculations, magnetism, optics, relativity, and centripetal acceleration. Just plug in the formula you want resolved and let Wolfram Alpha work its magic.

If chemistry is your field of interest, the search engine covers elements, compounds, ions, chemical quantities, and more. A query such as “12 pounds of 4-cyanoindole” returns a long list of information that includes mass composition, a structural diagram, the chemical name and formula, and even its melting point.

Engineering isn’t left out, so feel free to ask Wolfram Alpha to compute the characteristics of an AC signal and see it plotted on screen (“AC source 110 volts”) or work out where the Hubble telescope is right now and where it’s headed next (“orbital path of Hubble telescope”). It covers sound and acoustics, too.

The search engine can dig into transportation data as well. Maybe you want to compare flight passenger data, which can be done with a query like “average daily passengers United, Delta,” or maybe you need to know the “total length of all roads in France” for your next trivia night.

The Wolfram Alpha engine is really good at returning information about materials such as alloys, plastics, minerals, and wood—just type in the name of a material to learn about it. As usual, you can compare materials by separating the names with commas.

Crunch math and statistics numbers

Woflram Alpha
Throw that graphing calculator in the trash. Actually, don’t, it was pretty expensive. David Nield

Serious mathematicians and number-crunchers should love Wolfram Alpha. The search engine covers a whole host of functions and calculations, whether you need to work out the lengths of the sides of a triangle or locate the inflection points of a function. Start with the basics of addition and subtraction, then go as deep as you need to.

The plotting and graphics capabilities of Wolfram Alpha are particularly impressive. Queries like “plot x3 – 6x2 + 4x + 12″ (the function of one variable) and “3D parametric plot (cos t, sin 2t, sin 3t),” (a parametric curve in three dimensions) will produce an on-screen plot that you can analyze further or download to use somewhere else.

Algebra is included too, of course. Wolfram Alpha can solve equations (“solve x2 + 4x + 6 = 0″), compute the properties of a rational function (“(x2-1)/(x2+1)”), simplify equations (“simplify x5-20x4+163x3-676x2+1424x-1209″), and plenty more.

There are plenty of statistics-related queries you can try, too. Input something like “mean {21.3, 38.4, 12.7, 41.6}” and Wolfram Alpha will work out the average. You can use something more complex, like “X~Poisson(7.3), EV[3X4-7],” to compute the expected value of a random variable. Regression analysis and statistical inference are covered, too.

Wolfram Alpha can show step-by-step instructions on a lot of equations as well, so if you have a query along the lines of “60431 / 89,” you can go through the workings one stage at a time. It’s really useful for learning or revising. This is a Wolfram Alpha Pro feature though, and the more advanced version of the search engine is only available via a $7 per month subscription.

Finally, Wolfram Alpha is smart enough to work out fun calculations, too. Maybe you want to know “how many baseballs fit in a Boeing 747?” or find the answer to some other wild thought. It’s a bit silly, but it’s yet another example of why you might want to load up Wolfram Alpha rather than Google.