The Mathematics Local-Area Network

The Mathematics Local-Area Network (MathLAN) was created in 1987 to provide Grinnell College students in mathematics and computer science courses with a modern, accessible, well-stocked computing environment. It comprises about 175 workstations and five servers, running the the Debian distribution of GNU/Linux operating system. MathLAN supports a large variety of software for mathematics (notably MATLAB, Maple, and Mathematica), computing (the DrScheme programming environment, the Java Platform, the Eclipse programming environment etc.), and document creation and display (such as, Emacs, TEX, and Mozilla Firefox).

MathLAN has been developed to meet a broad range of curricular needs of both students and faculty:

  • GNU/Linux software includes programming tools that integrate various steps of coding, compiling, testing and debugging in a straightforward way. MathLAN supports compilers and interpreters for Java, Scheme, C, C++, Python, Perl, PHP, Ruby, Lua, Common Lisp, FORTRAN, Ada, Icon, and other languages, as well as a variety of programming tools and environments.

  • Our students and faculty have easy access to the major Internet information services (the World Wide Web, ftp, ssh, and e-mail). MathLAN's World Wide Web server provides access to more than fifteen thousand local documents.

  • High-resolution color graphics, driven by software that is both powerful and easy to use, make it possible to display data, functions, and mathematical structures in an intuitive way. These capabilities are used in a wide variety of courses -- pre-calculus, calculus, linear algebra, statistics, and modeling.

  • Our workstations provide enough processing power to run outstanding mathematical packages that perform algebraic, symbolic, or graphical operations on functions, statistical data sets, and other mathematical objects. The faculty of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics have successfully integrated these computing tools into our courses, particularly at the first- and second-year levels, with the objective of strengthening students' intuitive understanding of mathematical ideas.

About 1000 students, faculty, staff members, and recent graduates of Grinnell College currently maintain accounts on MathLAN.

Each classroom in the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics contains a MathLAN workstation linked to an Eiki digital projection system, for presentations and demonstrations. In addition, five of our classrooms are equipped with student workstations, for use in class activities, laboratory sessions, and workshops.

We also support two open laboratories, each containing nineteen workstations (one of which can be similarly linked to a projection system when the lab is used for a class).

The open laboratories and one of the computer-equipped classrooms are open for student use from 8 a.m. to midnight on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and from noon to midnight on Sundays. In the evenings and on weekends, a consultant is present to answer questions and provide general assistance.

A separate server room houses our servers for home-directory files, third-party software license management, remote login, e-mail, the department's Web, ftp, SVN, and Wiki sites, databases, authentication, and domain name resolution.

MathLAN was originally constructed with funds provided in part by the National Science Foundation, the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation, and the W. M. Keck Foundation, and was subsequently funded in part by the Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement program of the National Science Foundation and by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.