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Department of Mathematics & Statistics

COMO101 Modelling and Computation

Second Semester
18 points

COMO 101 is on blackboard: go to for up-to-date course information, lectures, tutorial sheets, etc.

This paper provides an introduction to mathematical and computational modelling with applications in science, engineering, biomedicine and industry. Topics include the translation of observations into mathematical models and the use of simulation and numerical methods to evaluate and apply the models.

If you want to check out the paper before enrolling, you're welcome to attend the first few lectures. They are in


Note there are not tutorials in the first week.


(1) Fermi modelling (2 weeks).

Scientists often carry out “back of the envelope” calculations to get a rough answer to a problem before proceeding to more exact and involved approaches. Working with a few assumptions and a number of rough measurements, we can often make some startlingly accurate predictions and estimations. We use these examples of techniques to introduce the whole notion of mathematical modelling, its weaknesses and strengths. The examples we use range from an analysis of a potential hydro scheme in Otago harbour to how we can measure the thickness of gladwrap with a school ruler.

(2) Difference equations and dynamical models (4 weeks)

Difference equations are a standard technique for describing, mathematically, how quantities change over time. We introduce the basic ideas of how to set up and describe difference equations and systems of different equations, drawing on examples from population growth, epidemiology, ecology and genetics. The emphasis is on simulation of the systems and qualitative analysis, rather on analytical solutions.

(3) Randomness and stochastic models (3 weeks)

The growing importance of simulation is one of the most important developments in model-based inference and indeed in statistical computing in general. We review relevant ideas from probability theory, with an emphasis on how to simulate random variables and processes. We demonstrate how simulation can be used to estimate quantities and integrals.

(4) Fitting and using models (3 weeks)

In this section we bring everything together and look at how models are used to infer quantities, to control stuff, and to make predictions. You will learn how to fit models to data, and explore these ideas through a diverse range of applications and case studies.

Note: this timetable is provisional, and is subject to change and improvement.


None, though students will be expected to do some algebraic manipulation. Students who have taken MATH 160 or similar tend to find many of the problems easier.


Prof David Bryant, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Room 232a, Science III. David's main area of research expertise is the application and development of mathematical, computational and statistical techniques in evolutionary biology and genetics.


Labs/tutorials are at 4pm on Wednesdays, and 9am, 10am, 1pm, 2pm on Thursdays. All labs run for one hour. Some labs will require group work. There will be no tutorials in the first week of lectures.


Your final grade will combine internal assessment and the final exam. The breakdown of assessment is:

Assignments (four) 5% each

Midterm test 20%

Tutorials 10%

Final Exam 50%

The Midterm (theory) test will be held Wednesday 25th August, 2pm. The room will be announced shortly.

Assignments must be submitted electronically through Blackboard. Late assignments will not be accepted.

Missed assessments


If you can't come to your allocated tutorial in a week, come to one of the other tutorials. They are Wed 4pm, Thu 9,10,1,2, and all in MATH 242. If you're sick and can't come to a tutorial, complete the tutorial in your own time and get it checked off in the following week.


If you miss an assignment for ill health, you'll need a medical certificate. We will take the grades for your other assignments and average them to give the grade for this assignment.

Midterm test.

There will be no make-up or test or alternative date. If you miss the midterm because of ill health or because you're away (check this with me first) we will rescale the final exam to cover your midterm.

If you have long-term illness or some other significant issues which are getting in the way of your COMO 101 work let me know, or go direct to student disabilities.

Terms Requirement

No terms requirement.

Exam format

The Como 101 final examination will be three hours long. You will be permitted to take approved calculators into the exam, but no notes or communicating devices.

Required text

There will be no required textbook.

Final mark

Your final mark F in the paper will be calculated according to this formula:

F = 0.2A + 0.1T + max(0.2M + 0.5E, 0.7E)


and all quantities are expressed as percentages.

Students must abide by the University’s Academic Integrity Policy

Academic integrity means being honest in your studying and assessments. It is the basis for ethical decision-making and behaviour in an academic context. Academic integrity is informed by the values of honesty, trust, responsibility, fairness, respect and courage.

Academic misconduct is seeking to gain for yourself, or assisting another person to gain, an academic advantage by deception or other unfair means. The most common form of academic misconduct is plagiarism.

Academic misconduct in relation to work submitted for assessment (including all course work, tests and examinations) is taken very seriously at the University of Otago.

All students have a responsibility to understand the requirements that apply to particular assessments and also to be aware of acceptable academic practice regarding the use of material prepared by others. Therefore it is important to be familiar with the rules surrounding academic misconduct at the University of Otago; they may be different from the rules in your previous place of study.

Any student involved in academic misconduct, whether intentional or arising through failure to take reasonable care, will be subject to the University’s Student Academic Misconduct Procedures which contain a range of penalties.

If you are ever in doubt concerning what may be acceptable academic practice in relation to assessment, you should clarify the situation with your lecturer before submitting the work or taking the test or examination involved.

Types of academic misconduct are as follows:


The University makes a distinction between unintentional plagiarism (Level One) and intentional plagiarism (Level Two).

  • Although not intended, unintentional plagiarism is covered by the Student Academic Misconduct Procedures. It is usually due to lack of care, naivety, and/or to a lack to understanding of acceptable academic behaviour. This kind of plagiarism can be easily avoided.
  • Intentional plagiarism is gaining academic advantage by copying or paraphrasing someone elses work and presenting it as your own, or helping someone else copy your work and present it as their own. It also includes self-plagiarism which is when you use your own work in a different paper or programme without indicating the source. Intentional plagiarism is treated very seriously by the University.

Unauthorised Collaboration

Unauthorised Collaboration occurs when you work with, or share work with, others on an assessment which is designed as a task for individuals and in which individual answers are required. This form does not include assessment tasks where students are required or permitted to present their results as collaborative work. Nor does it preclude collaborative effort in research or study for assignments, tests or examinations; but unless it is explicitly stated otherwise, each students answers should be in their own words. If you are not sure if collaboration is allowed, check with your lecturer..


Impersonation is getting someone else to participate in any assessment on your behalf, including having someone else sit any test or examination on your behalf.


Falsification is to falsify the results of your research; presenting as true or accurate material that you know to be false or inaccurate.

Use of Unauthorised Materials

Unless expressly permitted, notes, books, calculators, computers or any other material and equipment are not permitted into a test or examination. Make sure you read the examination rules carefully. If you are still not sure what you are allowed to take in, check with your lecturer.

Assisting Others to Commit Academic Misconduct

This includes impersonating another student in a test or examination; writing an assignment for another student; giving answers to another student in a test or examination by any direct or indirect means; and allowing another student to copy answers in a test, examination or any other assessment.

Further information

While we strive to keep details as accurate and up-to-date as possible, information given here should be regarded as provisional. Individual lecturers will confirm teaching and assessment methods.