Introduction to R. Collecting data. Solving ODEs in R

20-30 August 2023

Julien Arino

Department of Mathematics & Data Science Nexus
University of Manitoba*

Canadian Centre for Disease Modelling

*The University of Manitoba campuses are located on original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. We respect the Treaties that were made on these territories, we acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past, and we dedicate ourselves to move forward in partnership with Indigenous communities in a spirit of reconciliation and collaboration.


  • Foreword: the R language
  • Programming in R
  • Dealing with data
  • Solving ODE numerically

Foreword: the R language

R was originally for stats but is now more

  • Open source version of S
  • Appeared in 1993
  • Now version 4.3
  • One major advantage in my view: uses a lot of C and Fortran code. E.g., deSolve:

The functions provide an interface to the FORTRAN functions 'lsoda', 'lsodar', 'lsode', 'lsodes' of the 'ODEPACK' collection, to the FORTRAN functions 'dvode', 'zvode' and 'daspk' and a C-implementation of solvers of the 'Runge-Kutta' family with fixed or variable time steps

  • Very active community on the web, easy to find solutions (same true of Python, I just prefer R)

Development environments

  • Terminal version, not very friendly
  • Nicer terminal: radian
  • Execute R scripts by using Rscript name_of_script.R. Useful to run code in cron, for instance
  • Use IDEs:
    • RStudio has become the reference
    • RKWard is useful if you are for instance using an ARM processor (Raspberry Pi, some Chromebooks..)
  • Integrate into jupyter notebooks

Going further

  • RStudio server: run RStudio on a Linux server and connect via a web interface
  • Shiny: easily create an interactive web site running R code
  • Shiny server: run Shiny apps on a Linux server
  • Rmarkdown: markdown that incorporates R commands. Useful for generating reports in html or pdf, can make slides as well..
  • RSweave: LaTeX incorporating R commands. Useful for generating reports. Not used as much as Rmarkdown these days

R is a scripted language

  • Interactive
  • Allows you to work in real time
    • Be careful: what is in memory might involve steps not written down in a script
    • If you want to reproduce your steps, it is good to write all the steps down in a script and to test from time to time running using Rscript: this will ensure that all that is required to run is indeed loaded to memory when it needs to, i.e., that it is not already there..

Programming in R

Similar to matlab..

.. with some differences, of course! Otherwise, where would the fun be? ;)


Two ways:

X <- 10


X = 10

First version is preferred by R purists.. I don't really care


A very useful data structure, quite flexible and versatile. Empty list: L <- list(). Convenient for things like parameters. For instance

L <- list()
L$a <- 10
L$b <- 3
L[["another_name"]] <- "Plouf plouf"
> L[1]
[1] 10
> L[[2]]
[1] 3
> L$a
[1] 10
> L[["b"]]
[1] 3
> L$another_name
[1] "Plouf plouf"


x = 1:10
y <- c(x, 12)
> y
 [1]  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10 12
z = c("red", "blue")
> z
[1] "red"  "blue"
z = c(z, 1)
> z
[1] "red"  "blue" "1"

Note that in z, since the first two entries are characters, the added entry is also a character. Contrary to lists, vectors have all entries of the same type


Matrix (or vector) of zeros

A <- mat.or.vec(nr = 2, nc = 3)

Matrix with prescribed entries

B <- matrix(c(1,2,3,4), nr = 2, nc = 2)
> B
     [,1] [,2]
[1,]    1    3
[2,]    2    4
C <- matrix(c(1,2,3,4), nr = 2, nc = 2, byrow = TRUE)
> C
     [,1] [,2]
[1,]    1    2
[2,]    3    4

Remark that here and elsewhere, naming the arguments (e.g., nr = 2) allows to use arguments in any order

Matrix operations

Probably the biggest annoyance in R compared to other languages

  • The notation A*B is the Hadamard product (what would be denoted A.*B in matlab), not the standard matrix multiplication
  • Matrix multiplication is written A %*% B

Vector operations

Vector addition is also frustrating. Say you write x=1:10, i.e., make the vector

> x
 [1]  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10

Then x+1 gives

> x+1
 [1]  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10 11

i.e., adds 1 to all entries in the vector

Beware of this in particular when addressing sets of indices in lists, vectors or matrices

For the matlab-ers here

  • R does not have the keyword end to access the last entry in a matrix/vector/list..
  • Use length (lists or vectors), nchar (character chains), dim (matrices.. careful, of course returns 2 values)

Flow control

if (condition is true) {
  list of stuff to do

Even if list of stuff to do is a single instruction, best to use curly braces

if (condition is true) {
  list of stuff to do
} else if (another condition) {
} else {

For loops

for applies to lists or vectors

for (i in 1:10) {
  something using integer i
for (j in c(1,3,4)) {
  something using integer j
for (n in c("truc", "muche", "chose")) {
  something using string n
for (m in list("truc", "muche", "chose", 1, 2)) {
  something using string n or integer n, depending


Applies a function to one of the dimensions of a matrix

M = matrix(data = runif(50), nr = 10)
> apply(M, 1, max)
 [1] 0.9943167 0.9219764 0.3220949 0.9752947 0.7750777 0.7490136 0.9628084 0.9850463
 [9] 0.9098879 0.9764303
> apply(M, 2, max)
[1] 0.9943167 0.9764303 0.9850463 0.7528144 0.9628084

If you need a funkier function, just make it up on the fly or define it (if it is too complex)

apply(M, 1, function(x) sum(x))
 [1] 2.0285250 2.8906874 0.8427094 1.7375687 2.6387124 1.6453108 2.7476479 2.5075278
 [9] 2.1175915 1.9980510
> apply(M, 2, function(x) sum(x))
[1] 3.396630 6.485475 3.990447 3.969723 3.312057

(There are functions rowSums and colSums, but you get the point)


Very useful function (a few others in the same spirit: sapply, vapply, mapply)

Applies a function to each entry in a list/vector/matrix. Because there is a parallel version (parLapply) that we will see later, worth learning

l = list()
for (i in 1:10) {
        l[[i]] = runif(i)
lapply(X = l, FUN = mean)

or, to make a vector

unlist(lapply(X = l, FUN = mean))


sapply(X = l, FUN = mean)

"Advanced" lapply

Can "pick up" nontrivial list entries

l = list()
for (i in 1:10) {
        l[[i]] = list()
        l[[i]]$a = runif(i)
        l[[i]]$b = runif(2*i)
sapply(X = l, FUN = function(x) length(x$b))


[1]  2  4  6  8 10 12 14 16 18 20

Just recall: the argument to the function you define is a list entry (l[[1]], l[[2]], etc., here)

Avoid parameter variation loops with expand.grid

# Suppose we want to vary 3 parameters
variations = list(
    p1 = seq(1, 10, length.out = 10),
    p2 = seq(0, 1, length.out = 10),
    p3 = seq(-1, 1, length.out = 10)

# Create the list
tmp = expand.grid(variations)
PARAMS = list()
for (i in 1:dim(tmp)[1]) {
    PARAMS[[i]] = list()
    for (k in 1:length(variations)) {
        PARAMS[[i]][[names(variations)[k]]] = tmp[i, k]     

There is still a loop, but you can split this list, use it on different machines, etc. And can use parLapply

Dealing with data

  • Example: population of South Africa
  • Example - Dutch Elm Disease
  • Data wrangling

It is important to be "data aware"

  • Using R (or Python), it is really easy to grab data from the web, e.g., from Open Data sources
  • More and more locations have an open data policy
  • As a modeller, you do not need to have data everywhere, but you should be aware of the context
  • If you want your work to have an impact, for instance in public health, you cannot be completely disconnected from reality

Data is everywhere

Closed data

  • Often generated by companies, governments or research labs
  • When available, come with multiple restrictions

Open data

  • Often generated by the same entities but "liberated" after a certain period
  • More and more frequent with governments/public entities
  • Wide variety of licenses, so beware
  • Wide variety of qualities, so beware

Open Data initiatives

Recent movement (5-10 years): governments (local or higher) create portals where data are centralised and published

Data gathering methods

  • By hand
  • Using programs such as Engauge Digitizer or g3data
  • Using APIs
  • Using natural language processing and other web scraping methods
  • Using R or Python packages

Example: population of South Africa

pop_data_CTRY <- wb_data(country = "ZAF", indicator = "SP.POP.TOTL",
                         mrv = 100, return_wide = FALSE)
y_range = range(pop_data_CTRY$value)
y_axis <- make_y_axis(y_range)
png(file = "pop_ZAF.png", 
    width = 800, height = 400)
plot(pop_data_CTRY$date, pop_data_CTRY$value * y_axis$factor,
     xlab = "Year", ylab = "Population", type = "b", lwd = 2,
     yaxt = "n")
axis(2, at = y_axis$ticks, labels = y_axis$labels, las = 1)

Example - Dutch Elm Disease

Dutch Elm Disease

  • Fungal disease that affects Elms
  • Caused by the fungus Ophiostoma ulmi
  • Transmitted by the Elm bark beetle (Scolytus scolytus)
  • Has decimated North American urban elm forests

Getting the tree data

allTrees = read.csv("

After this,

## [1] 300846

Let us clean things a little

elms_idx = grep("American Elm", allTrees$Common.Name, = TRUE)
elms = allTrees[elms_idx, ]

We are left with 54,036 American elms

Computation of root systems interactions

(Needs a relatively large machine here - about 50GB RAM)

  • If roots of an infected tree touch roots of a susceptible tree, fungus is transmitted
  • Spread of a tree's root system depends on its height (we have diametre at breast height, DBH, for all trees)
  • The way roadways are built, there cannot be contacts between root systems of trees on opposite sides of a street

Distances between all trees

elms_xy = cbind(elms$X, elms$Y)
D = dist(elms_xy)
idx_D = which(D<50)

indices_LT is a large matrix with indices (orig,dest) of trees in the pairs of elms, so indices_LT[idx_D] are the pairs under consideration

Keep a little more..

indices_LT_kept =[idx_D,],
colnames(indices_LT_kept) = c("i","j","dist")

Create line segments between all pairs of trees

tree_locs_orig = cbind(elms_latlon$lon[indices_LT_kept$i],
tree_locs_dest = cbind(elms_latlon$lon[indices_LT_kept$j],
tree_pairs =

A bit of mapping

# Get bounding polygon for Winnipeg
bb_poly = osmdata::getbb(place_name = "winnipeg", 
                         format_out = "polygon")
# Get roads
roads <- osmdata::opq(bbox = bb_poly) %>%
  osmdata::add_osm_feature(key = 'highway', 
                           value = 'residential') %>%
  osmdata::osmdata_sf () %>%
  osmdata::trim_osmdata (bb_poly)
# Get rivers
rivers <- osmdata::opq(bbox = bb_poly) %>%
  osmdata::add_osm_feature(key = 'waterway', 
                           value = "river") %>%
  osmdata::osmdata_sf () %>%
  osmdata::trim_osmdata (bb_poly)

And we finish easily

  • We have the pairs of trees potentially in contact with each other
  • We have the roads and rivers of the city, which is a collection of line segments
  • If there is an intersection between a tree pair and a road/river, then we can forget this tree pair as their root systems cannot come into contact
st_crs(tree_pairs) = sf::st_crs(roads$osm_lines$geometry)
iroads = sf::st_intersects(x = roads$osm_lines$geometry,
                           y = tree_pairs)
irivers = sf::st_intersects(x = rivers$osm_lines$geometry,
                            y = tree_pairs)
tree_pairs_roads_intersect = c()
for (i in 1:length(iroads)) {
  if (length(iroads[[i]])>0) {
    tree_pairs_roads_intersect = c(tree_pairs_roads_intersect,
tree_pairs_roads_intersect = sort(tree_pairs_roads_intersect)
to_keep = 1:dim(tree_locs_orig)[1]
to_keep = setdiff(to_keep,tree_pairs_roads_intersect)

Data wrangling

Data wrangling: dplyr vs sqldf

dplyr is part of the tidyverse set of libraries. Load magrittr and its pipe %>%

sqldf allows to use SQL on dataframes.. interesting alternative if you know SQL


SARS = read.csv("../DATA/SARS-CoV-1_data.csv")

## Three ways to keep only the data for one country
ctry = "Canada"
# The basic one
idx = which(SARS$country == ctry)
SARS_selected = SARS[idx,]
# The sqldf way
SARS_selected = sqldf(paste0("SELECT * FROM SARS WHERE country = '", 
                             ctry, "'"))
# The dplyr way
SARS_selected = SARS %>%
  filter(country == ctry)
# Create incidence for the selected country. diff does difference one by one,
# so one less entry than the vector on which it is being used, thus we pad with a 0.
SARS_selected$incidence = c(0, diff(SARS_selected$totalNumberCases))
# Keep only positive incidences (discard 0 or negative adjustments)
SARS_selected = SARS_selected %>%
  filter(incidence > 0)

# Plot the result
# Before plotting, we need to make the dates column we will use be actual dates..
SARS_selected$toDate = lubridate::ymd(SARS_selected$toDate)
         date = "toDate", period = "day",
         freq = "incidence",
         title = "SARS-CoV-1 incidence in Canada in 2003")

Solving ODE numerically

(The deSolve library)

The deSolve library

  • As I have already pointed out, deSolve:

The functions provide an interface to the FORTRAN functions 'lsoda', 'lsodar', 'lsode', 'lsodes' of the 'ODEPACK' collection, to the FORTRAN functions 'dvode', 'zvode' and 'daspk' and a C-implementation of solvers of the 'Runge-Kutta' family with fixed or variable time steps

  • So you are benefiting from years and year of experience: ODEPACK is a set of Fortran (77!) solvers developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) starting in the late 70s

  • Other good solvers are also included, those written in C

  • Refer to the package help for details

Using deSolve for simple ODEs

As with more numerical solvers, you need to write a function returning the value of the right hand side of your equation (the vector field) at a given point in phase space, then call this function from the solver

rhs_logistic <- function(t, x, p) {
  with(as.list(x), {
    dN <- p$r * N *(1-N/p$K)
params = list(r = 0.1, K = 100)
IC = c(N = 50)
times = seq(0, 100, 1)
sol <- ode(IC, times, rhs_logistic, params)

This also works: add p to arguments of as.list and thus use without p$ prefix

rhs_logistic <- function(t, x, p) {
  with(as.list(c(x, p)), {
    dN <- r * N *(1-N/K)
params = list(r = 0.1, K = 100)
IC = c(N = 50)
times = seq(0, 100, 1)
sol <- ode(IC, times, rhs_logistic, params)

In this case, beware of not having a variable and a parameter with the same name..

Default method: lsoda

  • lsoda switches automatically between stiff and nonstiff methods

  • You can also specify other methods: "lsode", "lsodes", "lsodar", "vode", "daspk", "euler", "rk4", "ode23", "ode45", "radau", "bdf", "bdf_d", "adams", "impAdams" or "impAdams_d" ,"iteration" (the latter for discrete-time systems)

ode(y, times, func, parms, 
    method = "ode45")
  • You can even implement your own integration method

Merci / Miigwech / Thank you