Is there a way to plot an expensive function without resorting to making a list of values and using ListPlot?

I have a function called gap[h,size] which computes the difference between the lowest two eigenvalues in a large sparse matrix. h is a parameter in the matrix that varies from 0 to 1 while size controls the size of the matrix. The matrix contains 2^size * 2^size entries.

Computing gap[h,size] gets expensive as size gets larger, but it's reasonable to get all the way up to size=18 at which point each evaluation takes around 8 seconds.

Here is my problem: Although I can compute a list of values of gap[h,18] at different values of h, I cannot plot the function gap[h,18] at all. Even at a more modest value of size=12,

    gap[h, 12],
    {h, 0, 1},
    PlotPoints -> 10, MaxRecursion -> 0

will not run, even though computing

Table[gap[h, 12], {h, 0, 1, 0.1}]

takes only half a second. During evaluation Mathematica runs a single CPU core at 100% but doesn't hog any memory.

Here is some sample code to try for yourself. The matrix is already diagonal, but you cannot plot gap for values above size=10.

largeMatrix[h_, size_] :=
            {i_, i_} -> h,
            {2^size, 2^size}
sparseIdentity[length_] := 
  SparseArray[{i_, i_} -> 1, {2^length, 2^length}];
sparseEigensystem[matrix_, length_, valuesKept_] := 
 Block[{values, vectors},
    {values, vectors} = 
   Eigensystem[matrix - length*sparseIdentity[length], valuesKept];
    {values + length, vectors}
gap[h_, length_] /; NumericQ[h] := 
 gap[h, length] = Block[{values, vectors},
    {values, vectors} = 
    sparseEigensystem[largeMatrix[h, length], length, 2];
    EuclideanDistance @@ values
  • $\begingroup$ By "will not run" do you mean "doesn't terminate in the time I've waited"? $\endgroup$
    – lericr
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 22:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You could try Chebyshev interpolation. There's Statistics`Library`BarycentricInterpolation to help with this. Search the site or see mathematica.stackexchange.com/questions/191070/… $\endgroup$
    – Michael E2
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ Try wrapping your Plot with Monitor to see where it gets stuck. $\endgroup$
    – Chris K
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ Have you tried using Evaluate? Plot[Evaluate@gap[h, 12], ...] $\endgroup$
    – Bob Hanlon
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks everyone, these are useful suggestions and I will try them. Sorry to not put the matrix in the question, but it's too big of course. $\endgroup$
    – Diffycue
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 23:12

1 Answer 1


When I ran

Monitor[Plot[gap[h, 16], {h, 0, 1}, PlotPoints -> 10, MaxRecursion -> 0], h]

I noticed it got stuck on 0. Avoiding integers fixes it:

Plot[gap[h, 16], {h, 0., 1.}, PlotPoints -> 10, MaxRecursion -> 0]

runs in 0.08s.


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