Sunday, May 11, 2008


Not too long ago, I was entering random commands into MATLAB (read: I was bored, so wondered if certain commands existed). I finally came across a few "games" which would have a practical side to them:

  • xpbombs for a Minesweeper equivalent

  • fifteen for a puzzle game

  • sf_tictacflow for naughts and crosses/Tic-Tac-Toe

  • sf_tetris for Tetris

It was after this search, I wondered into the LaTeX command which was cunningly called latex. This command makes it possible to port equations and matrices from the MATLAB workspace to your LaTeX document.

The latex command makes use of the Symbolic Toolbox which is available with MATLAB (providing you have the appropriate licence). The Symbolic Toolbox can easily calculate integrals and Taylor expansions algebraically (however it doesn't show workings if you're looking for the intermediate steps). It can even convert matrices and vectors into LaTeX providing you convert the matrix or vector into a symbolic object first.

To convert an ordinary double object into symbolic object, one simply has to encapsulate the double object in a sym environment, i.e. output = sym(x). The outputted object can then be processed for LaTeX conversion using the latex(output). In the case of matrices, the output even puts the dynamic brackets that resize depending on its contents (i.e. the \left[ and \right]) which, of course, can be changed to whatever you want once its imported into your document.

Taylor expansions? No problem. Simply assign a variable like x to be symbolic by either typing syms x or x = sym('x'), then output = taylor(exp(x)) should you wish to see the Taylor expansion of e^x. As before, LaTeX-ify the output by using latex(output) which you can then copy into your document.

If copy and pasting is getting a little too much, you could use the inbuilt copy command which will move the output into clipboard for you. All you'll have to do then is paste the contents of clipboard into the application of your choice. Easy. Here's the code: clipboard('copy', latex(output)).

What obviously comes next is a quick script that does this all for you depending on the input. Like many of my scripts, I simply append the word "it" to the original function name; so in this case I created a latexit.m file:

function output = latexit(input, copyToClipboard)

output = [];

if nargin == 1

copyToClipboard = true;

elseif ~islogical(copyToClipboard)

warning('Second argument should be logical. Assuming value is false');

copyToClipboard = false;


if isa(input, 'sym')

% Symbolic object

output = latex(input);


% Another type of object


output = latex(sym(input));


error('Could not process input. Try converting object to a symbolic form manually and then reprocess');



if copyToClipboard

clipboard('copy', output);


That should be it. A script file that could convert matrices and output them as LaTeX in addition to moving the LaTeX code into the clipboard (which can be disabled by supplying false as the second argument). If you were really lazy, you could wrap the LaTeX code in an equation environment too, but there's little point in doing that here.

Further investigation into how this works reveals that it goes deeper than the Symbolic Toolbox as it turns out it uses the Maple engine to turn the symbolic object into LaTeX output. Why reinvent the wheel when someone's already done a fine job?