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Computer skills home

The computing skills you have developed before coming to university are important but it is vital to continue your development of these skills. They enhance your employability, make report writing much easier, improve your data analysis skills and also aid understanding of basic physics concepts. 

Use of computers is your choice - there is no perfect way to use them. There are packages and programs well suited to some tasks and less well suited to others This section comprises short guides to develop your skills - they can be referred to when you forget some syntax or how to use a particular package or tools. The guides on each topic include 

  • Introduction to the package
  • Basic instructions on using the package
  • Examples for you to try out
  • Instructions on how to obtain and install for personal computer
  • Links to external resources which also help in understanding some software.

Read the relevant drop-down box below. The instructions are meant to be followed independently in the teaching laboratory.

Scientific Python

There are many packages for performing calculations, making plots of experimental results, manipulating and understanding physics using a computer. A powerful and free package used in the physics department is scientific python. Python is a programming language used significantly in information technology. It is simple, scripted and most importantly free. Python is just the language -  to it is added scientific packages, for performing calculations and making plots. 

  • Numpy (fast N-dimensional arrays)
  • Scipy (special functions, fitting, etc)
  • Matplotlib (plotting)

Together this is typically called SciPy. Obtaining SciPy is relatively straightforward, our suggestion in the department is to download one of the packages fromEnthought. The academic downing (which includes students) is found here.

Here is a list of simple activities to get the uninitiated started 

  1. Starting python 
  2. Load data (open a file with experimental data)
  3. Plot data (with labels, legends etc) 
  4. Fitting. 


1st year Mathematica masterclass

Eight sessions with examples, with a focus on laboratory work, experimentation, data, plotting and uncertainties
The course is evolving and if you have any comments please contact 
Stewart Boogert.

Online resources

There are excellent online resources for Mathematica. The most important is the mathematica website. Please find some useful links below.

Mathematica at Royal Holloway

Mathematica is installed on all Royal Holloway campus computers (most importantly the teaching laboratory). You can also obtain a licence for your laptop from Andy Alway for £25. 



LaTeX is a document mark-up language for the TeX typesetting program. Us physicists generally use it to create formal reports or publishable papers. Installation varies depending on what operating system you are running:

LaTeX - Windows installation guide

LaTeX - Mac installation guide


This primer explains how to connect to a unix cluster from the undergraduate teaching laboratory. It is possible to connect to UNIX/Linux computers remotely and run programs on the remote computer. This uses the XWindow system

Start XWindows on your computer (Start -> Programs -> Academic Applications -> Physics -> startxwin.bat).


Start a terminal Start -> Programs -> Academic Applications -> Physics -> XRvt)


You'll see a terminal as below, the white window. In the terminal ssh -x LOGON@MACHINENAME where you replace LOGON with your login and MACHINENAME with the machine your want to connect to.


Then you can start other commands on the remote machine and the window should be transmitted back to your terminal.


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