Elizabeth J. Pyatt

210 Rider II,
Education Technology Services, a unit of I.T.S

My Life as a Penn State Instruction Designer

Got Unicode?
Math & Science

Math and science in Unicode is even more complicated than plain text in Unicode, yet it's the one area where even non-linguists have to learn to deal with Unicode. Here are some stories from Flash and Photoshop on dealing with math symbols.

Photoshop and the Aries (♈) Symbol (10-Jul-2006)

After being diverted by other work issues, I hope to return to regular postings. The first one has to do with the Aries (♈) symbol which also used in astronomy to represent (whichever point the sun cross the equator at the Spring equinox).

For various reasons, I needed to generate the vernal point symbol in Photoshop (on the Mac), so I thought...why not Unicode? I dutifully opened the Apple Character Palette tool, found the astronomical symbols under "Miscelleneous Symbols" listing. The result was the question mark of death (no Aries symbol). The weird thing was that the Aries sign was visible in the text layer name. That was a "sign" that Photoshop does support Unicode, but that there was a font issue.

The trick was that I had to figure out which font actually has the Aries symbols because Times New Roman is not one of them. Fortunately I was able to remember whch font had it, so I got the symbol visible, but I had to think on it a bit.

For the record, here are some fonts with the Aries symbol (and other astro symbols). For astronomy, you are usually looking for fonts which support the Miscellaneous Symbols and Mathematical Operators Unicode block.

The Union (∪) & Intersection (∩) Symbol in Flash 8 (11-May-2005)

I'm working on a math quiz in Math for set theory where questions are pulled into a text file. The instructor wants to include the union () and intersection symbol () in his problems, so what to do?

The good news is that if you can create a UTF-8 text file and insert the symbols, it will import into Flash (at least in Flash 8.) For math, your best bet is usally to use the Windows Character Map utility and insert the symbols into a Notepad text file or use the Macintosh Character Palette with a Text Edit text file. Unfortunately, the process is still a little clunky in both platforms, but it's better than in 2005.


You have to open both Notepad (Start » Accessories) and Character Map (Start » Accessories » System Tools)

For the Windows Character Map, it's a semi-clunky process. You have to switch the font to "Arial Unicode MS" (because it has the all themath symbols), then scroll down to window untul you see the math section. Then you have to select, copy and paste each symbol into Notepad.

In Notepad, when you save the file, you have to make sure the encoding menu under the file name is changed from "ANSI" to "UTF-8". Fortunately, it will warn you.


In Text Edit for the Mac, you go to Edit » Special Characters to bring up the Character Palette. Click the Math option and hunt for the symbol. Highlight and click Insert to place it in Text Edit.

Once you insert the symbols, you have to make sure your encoding is set to UTF-8 during the save process. Go to the Format menu and select "Make Plain Text." Then, when you save the file you have to make sure the encoding menu under the file name is changed from "MacRoman" to "UTF-8".

Reopening UTF-8 Files in Mac Text Edit

In Text Edit, if you reopen a UTF-8 file it may be magically transformed to MacRoman (you'll see things like Á& instead of your intended character). Very annoying (grr!!) To prevent this, you must go into the Text Edit Preferences, then click the Open and Save panel. Make sure that the Plain Text Encoding options for opening and saving are set for "UTF-8." Or you can spring for a license for BBEdit or Mellel which are better about warning you.

As for Flash

Fonts are still a little tricky within Flash, but at least it's playing well with text files.


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