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VISICALC FOR SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING by Stanley R. Trost and Charles Pomernacki


Reviewed by Harry E. Pence
and Celene DiFrancia

Although VisiCalc is best known as a spreadsheet program for business applications, it can also be extremely useful in some chemical problems.  Especially in analytical chemistry laboratories, it is used to do repetitive caluclations, organize and correlate data, develop reports, and identify data trends. In fact, one of the reviewers (C.D.) has done exactly this type of work in an industrial laboratory during the summer and vacations for the past year.
Trost and Pomernacki have written this book to demonstrate some of the possible scientific uses of VisiCalc. The authors preseume that the reader already has a working knowledge of VisiCalc, although a brief summary of the necessary commands is provided in an appendix. This assumption should create few difficulties since there are several books available that describe VisiCalc and other similar spreadsheet software.
The major emphasis of the book is on creating design tables or spreadsheets that can be manipulated with routine VisiCalc commands. The sample spreadsheets discussed are intended to both serve as a library of useful applications as well as demonstrate how the techniques can be extended to other situations.
The authors have chosen to draw their examples from a widely divergent group of scientific fields, including not only statistics, communications, heat flow, optics, and simple mechanics, but also electrical, solar, mechanical, and civil engineering. Over fifty examples are provided, and in each case the approach is the same. First a specific situation is outlined, then the appropriate data is provided, and finally instructions are given for a sample problem. The instructions are clear, although a little dry. No unexpected results were discovered in running a number of these examples.
It is unfortunate that so few of the problems selected are directly related to chemical applications.. More important, the focus on specific situations tends to somewhat blur the generalities that might identify broader implications of the method. Reading this book will help to develop a general appreciation of the power of VisiCalc and similar spreadsheet analysis software, but it is left to the individual to determine how these principles might relate to chemical problems.
The chemist who wishes to pursue the possibilities of spreadsheet analysis further is left with few alternatives. A brief bibliography is included, but few of the books listed seem likely to deal with chemical problems. In short, the reader must accept the fact that further work must be done independently.
Obviously, this book leaves something to be desired for chemists, but as the old saying goes, it may be the only game in town. Despite the lack of chemical applications, the book can suggest possible chemical uses of VisiCalc. For some readers, the book may be a worth-while source of information and ideas, but others may choose to work on their own or wait until a more directly applicable book becomes available.
*Department of Chemistry
SUNY-Oneonta, Oneonta, NY 13820


06/24/85 to 06/27/85