Using maths and computer science to do social good

Using maths and computer science to do social good


Using Maths and Computer Science to do Social Good

The Course

These are the course pages for 'Fun Fridays' at the Dept. of IT, Uppsala University.

The aims of this course is to learn how to use your maths, computer science, statistics, machine learning or similar methods to make the world a better place. We will use our skills to give us insight in to and/or improve society, to think about what it means to try to improve the world using maths, and also to be creative and have fun. 

The official PhD course will run for twenty Fridays during fall 2021 starting September 3rd. Participation in the first part of the course (lectures, guest seminars, workshops and a small mini-project) gives a grade credit of 5hp during the first ten weeks. Full participation and an extended project gives a grade credit of 10hp. Although designed as a PhD student course, PostDocs and other senior researchers are most welcome. 

Social good in this course will have a very broad definition. It can be modelling disease spread or climate change, it can be finding out more about how we interact online, it can be investigating and dissecting algorithms used by large corporations. But it can also be making fun to use applications or demonstrations of your research or your interests. We will also, and this is central, look at the ethical dangers involved in claiming we are going to 'do good'.  It doesn't always turn out like we thought it would.

The course is run by David Sumpter and Ida-Maria Sintorn. It will consists of a series of lectures by David, seminars by guest speakers, together with projects designed and carried out by the students with David's guidance and supervision. Ida-Maria will give guidance about outreach and public communication. David  (Länkar till en externa sida.)has worked extensively in communicating and applying maths to everyday life topics and society. He is the author of several popular science books including: Soccermatics, Outnumbered, and The Ten Equations that Rule the World. He has written for among others, The Economist, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Current Biology, Nordic Bet Blog, The Conversation, Mathematics Today and FourFourTwo magazine. Ida-Maria  (Länkar till en externa sida.)has industrial and academic experience in a variety of image analysis applications, including working at the department of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Sydney, Australia, as Head of R&D and currently CTO at Vironova AB, and as researcher at both Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Register (interest and course participation) by sending an email to

The Lectures

The lectures will be given in person at the meeting on Fridays. These will start on 3rd of September and be approximately every second week (see below). The topics of the first six lectures are below.  Links to slides will be added as we go. 

3rd September: Examples of using maths for social good. 

24th September: Downloading relevant data, tools for development and visualisation. 

8th October: Presenting your work.

22nd October: Are you really doing good?

5th November: The balance between rigour and getting things done. 

The series will continue with guest lecturers (possibly online).


Uppsala Activities

The success of this project requires us to work together, support each other and find joint ways of making progress. The basic idea is, by working alone or in groups, to take a project idea from start to finish in 5 to 10 days of work per person. We start with a question or idea, and present our work as a video or blog post. Together, the course members will set up their own Youtube channel/written blog in order to report on their results to a broader public.

The work on Fridays will be organised as follows. 

09:15 When there isn't lectures we have a planning round table (45 minutes). Everyone outlines what they are working on. 

10:00 - 15:00 Work on project (if possible)

15:00 Coffee together.

15:15 Longer report back from people working on a specific project.

The project planning and meetings will be done in person (restrictions allowing) in room 4306. Attendance at the two meetings is obligatory for students participating in the course. Although we will see Fridays as the day to do the work, this is very flexible. We understand that people have other demands on their time. 


Specific schedule for the first meeting on Sept. 3.

09:15 Welcome

10:00 Coffee

10:15  Round the table introductions & short presentation of the Institute for Future Studies

11-14:15 Individual work on project ideas

14:15- ~16 Presentation and discussion on project ideas


Schedule for the second meeting on Sept. 10

9:15-10 Discussion and planning on how to reach out and present the projects

10:15-11 Forming groups


Off-Campus Participation

PhD students outside Uppsala are also welcome to register and participate in the course but for this first instance it will require physical presence in Uppsala on Fridays. Later this fall we plan to start an online hub for external participants. If you are interested in creating an external hub then please contact Ida-Maria ( Within Sweden it should be possible to have the course made part of the degree. The Institute for Future Studies  (Länkar till en externa sida.) will constitute one such hub. 

Although we see no limits to who can do good with maths and computer science, participation in this particular project is limited to academics either currently working on or already holding a PhD. 

Course summary:

Date Details Due