I see that we can do associative arrays in Mathematica using functions that have implicit pattern arguments, as in

debyeTemperature[ "Aluminum" ] = 433 ;
debyeTemperature[ "Americium" ] = 121 ;
debyeTemperature[ "Antimony" ] = 220 ;
debyeTemperature[ "Argon" ] = 92.0 ;

debyeTemperature[ "Americium" ]

My guess is that ChemicalData[] uses something like this internally.

Is there a syntax for bulk initialization of such a hash function with pairs of values, perhaps like a similar perl hash initialization:

my %debyeTemperature = ("Aluminum" => 433,
                        "Americium" => 121,
                        "Antimony" => 220,
                        "Argon" => 92.0, ) ;

print "$debyeTemperature{'Americium'}\n" ;

2 Answers 2


You could set up a list of rules for the data and use that directly, optionally making a function wrapper for it:

debyeRules = {"Aluminum" -> 433, "Americium" -> 121,
              "Antimony" -> 220, "Argon" -> 92.0, _ -> Missing["NotAvailable"]};
debyeTemperature[s_] := s /. debyeRules
Attributes[debyeTemperature] = {Listable};

debyeTemperature[{"Aluminum", "Americium", "Abc"}]
(* {433, 121, Missing["NotAvailable"]} *)

If you have a lot of data you can run Dispatch on the rules once for faster lookup.


I am adding this answer because the solution based on lists of rules / Dispatch, while being very fine, has a limitation that you can't easily add more rules to the Dispatch-ed set of rules efficiently at a later stage. So, it is best suited for cases where you know all your key-value pairs in advance.

It is not difficult to add a little more convenient syntax to the DownValues-based one, though. For example:


which can now be used as


Now you have initialized your symbol as a hash, so that you can use e.g. such initialization:

debyeRules = {"Aluminum" -> 433, "Americium" -> 121, "Antimony" -> 220, "Argon" -> 92.0}

You can check that the relevant key-value pairs have been added to the DownValues of debyeRules.

You can also add other "methods" into makeHash, to be attached to the symbol in question - they could test if it is of your hash type, etc.


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