Python lessons: introduction

Python is a versatile, open source programming language for scientific computing and general-purpose programming. Some advantages that Python offers over other programming languages are (1) the syntax is relatively simple and readable, (2) Python handles numeric, text and other forms of data very well, (3) many libraries for scientific computing are available, and (4) there is a large and active Python user community. The Python programming language was affectionately named after the Monty Python’s Flying Circus by its creator, Guido van Rossum.

If Python is downloaded and installed from the official website, the installation comes with a large standard library. However, the libraries commonly used for scientific computing in research (such as Numpy and Matplotlib) are not included. The quickest way to install Python and commonly used scientific libraries is with the package distribution Anaconda.

Currently there are two versions of Python available: Python 2 and Python 3. While there is still some discussion on which version is preferred, Python 3 is the present and future of the language and it is under active development. We recommend installing Python 3.

Python can be run in many different environments (e.g., from the command line, or interactively in an iPython notebook). The Anaconda Python package distribution comes with Spyder, a development environment similar to Matlab, as well as iPython and iPython notebooks. Another development environment we have used and like is PyCharm.

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