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MATLAB at Northwestern University

MATLAB is an integrated technical computing environment that combines numeric computation, advanced graphics and visualization, and a high-level programming language oriented towards matrix computation. There are functions for data analysis and visualization, numeric computation, engineering and scientific graphics, modeling, simulation, prototyping, programming and application development.

Northwestern Information Technology (IT) obtained campus-wide licenses for MATLAB for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux with contributions from the McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science, the Kellogg School of Management, the Feinberg School of Medicine, and the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. Administration of the MATLAB license is shared between Northwestern IT and those organizations.

These licenses apply to students, faculty and staff. Faculty and staff use is restricted to University-owned computing facilities that are used solely in support of classroom instruction and research activities of students, faculty and staff, and research staff. Student licenses are restricted to student-owned computers for academic use only. The right to use MATLAB for any other purposes, including commercial purposes, is expressly prohibited.

Licensed platforms encompass MATLAB for Windows (32-bit and 64-bit), Linux (64-bit), and Mac OS X (Intel 64-bit).

The campus-wide MATLAB license is split into three parts:

The MATLAB toolboxes available under these licenses vary by license type and the individual schools involved. See MATLAB Toolboxes for basic descriptions of the toolbox options.

See for more information about the MATLAB product.

Obtaining MATLAB

To obtain MATLAB and its toolboxes, you must contact the appropriate local administrator. You may have to pay a fee to get MATLAB, as a matter of cost recovery. Because costs and subsidies vary among the partner schools, each school charges a different fee.


MATLAB brings to bear many mathematical and graphical tools in one unified environment. The programming language specifications lend themselves to the kinds of vector and matrix computations common to academic pursuits. Add-on toolboxes support specific disciplines such as engineering and econometrics with high-level programming functions. A program like MATLAB can accelerate your research, and compact the time invested in analysis and development. (See Related products for some alternatives, some of which are free.) The MATLAB environment encourages creativity and helps you to quickly test and compare alternatives.

MATLAB is an interpreter. As a result, it will run more slowly than Fortran 95 codes written and compiled specifically for a problem. If you have long-running codes, you might profit greatly by converting them from MATLAB to something like Fortran 95.

MATLAB is heavily used in some academic curricula. If your school or department depends on MATLAB programs in the classroom, or if MATLAB programs are used to augment an important textbook, then you might want to use MATLAB in related efforts. Because MATLAB is licensed for use at most every research university in the USA, knowing how to use MATLAB is a portable skill.

The heavy, wide-spread use of MATLAB in science, industry, education and government stands to ensure the quality and integrity of the product.

How Do I Learn to Use MATLAB?

MATLAB comes with extensive documentation that is built into the product. You can see demonstrations of many of the features of MATLAB by typing the demo command from within the program. If you pay close attention during the demo, you'll have learned how to use the product.

Documentation is also in the form of help entries (for specific topics) or in manuals, which are provided in both HTML and PDF form for each toolbox. The toolboxes are installed separately, at the system administrator's option. Type the ver command from within MATLAB to obtain a list of the toolboxes installed on your computer. You can also find extensive documentation on the MathWorks Support Site.

You can try MATLAB in one of the public labs before purchasing it. Computer Labs locations and facility hours. Since some labs are for specialized use, make sure MATLAB is on the list of available software in the lab of your choice.

How Do I Obtain Support for MATLAB?

Support for licensing and installation problems should be obtained from the local administrators. If you have problems using MATLAB, you should first consult the MathWorks online Technical Support and Customer Service Area. That site offers numerous resources and will frequently be your only stop for a solution. If you wish to contact the vendor, create a service request.

Last Updated: 30 March 2017

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