Math can save your life Good looking bloke, that. For all you gamers Watch them before you die 160 freaking people! New Series Guide Huuunnngggrrryyy Was there a TU1? It's been Stalinised Diseases have ecology?

Welcome to the homepage of
Robert Smith?

Yes, the question mark is actually part of my name. This seems to have made a lot of bureaucrats very upset. However, interesting people really like it. So you can decide which side of the line you fall, based on your reaction to it...

I'm originally from Australia, but recently completed the marathon application process to become a dual citizen of Canada too. To add to the challenge, I did this while living in the US. People kept asking if I'd be getting US citizenship next and I kept laughing at that. Somewhat hysterically, it must be said.

People sometimes ask me why I have a question mark in my name. In fact, somebody does this approximately fifteen times a day. (One day, I'm sure he'll get bored and go away.) If you haven't lived with an incredibly common name, then you have no idea what it's like to be entirely invisible on Google. Not that the question mark actually solves that, but at least it differentiates me from that guy from The Cure. It's been twenty years now and sadly his career shows no sign of drying up.

Happily, the entire world now seems to know of this, thanks to the media storm surrounding the zombie article. Someday, somehow, this will get through to the punctuation-phobes at Facebook. Well, I live in hope...

Contact details

The Department of Mathematics
The University of Ottawa
585 King Edward Ave
Ottawa, ON K1S 0S1

Office location: Room 106, 555 King Edward Ave

613 562 5800 x3740

Email: rsmith43 (at)


Fall 2015

MAT3130: Introduction to Dynamical Systems

MAT4996/5187: Special Topics in Applied Mathematics: Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases




Complete list. This is probably the best link to click on.


Click on any of the book images to find a link where you can buy a copy.
Math can save your life The zombie apocalypse could occur at any time. The best weapon? Braaaiiinnnsss! The apocalypse survival kit includes such essentials as: mathematical models; differential equations; individual-based modelling; zombie swarming; statistical estimation; fuzzy decision-making; network theory; discrete-time models; spatial diffusion of the undead; and adaptive strategies for zombie attacks. Chapters also look at how modelling can advise government policy, how theoretical results can be communicated to a non-mathematical audience and how models can be formulated with only limited information. In the most egotistical research ever conducted, I even develop a mathematical model to track the viral spread of the story of my original math paper through the media (well, hey, I had all the data!). Oh, and it features a foreword by Andrew Cartmel, former script editor of Doctor Who, author, zombie fan and all-round famous person in science-fiction circles.

By understanding how to combat zombies, readers will see an introduction to a wide variety of modelling techniques, which are applicable to other real-world issues (such as diseases and ecology), but which engage the imagination. The aim of this collection is to illustrate the power of mathematical modelling using the fun hook of zombies.

For all you gamers If you're into gaming at all, then you'll love this book. It's written by women, to provide an alternate perspective on a male-dominated subject and provides a counterbalance to gamergate and some of the nastiness out there. I'm very humbled to have been involved.

Watch them before you die! If you've always wanted to get into Doctor Who --- and let's be honest, who amongst us hasn't, deep down? --- then this is the book for you. The biggest problem with Classic Doctor Who is knowing where to start; there's just so much of it, the sixties stuff doesn't all exist and some of it is slow. So we wrote a book just for you! It's a sort of bucket list of Doctor Who, both Classic and New.

Even better, we tested this out on our editor, who'd only seen one Classic Series story (and hated it). She mainlined 200 episodes in three months... and came out of it a squeeing fangirl. So I think of this book as "the fan-maker".

But if you're a hardcore fan, don't despair. We wrote it with an eye on you as well. (Yes, we can write simultaneously for two audiences at once. That's how we roll.) So there's something for everyone.

160 freaking essays! It's the biggest, wildest idea I ever had. There are 160 Doctor Who stories in the Classic Series, so I set myself an impossible goal. One essay per story, by 160 distinct individuals. O.M.G. But that's not the thing that really makes this book something special. On top of that, I added a requirement: say something new. Something different.

The result? 160 essays that examine every Classic Series story from perspectives ranging from the interesting to the unexpected to the downright bizarre. So included in this collection are mock-angry letters to the BBC, transcripts of council meetings, even a recipe. There are flow charts, maps, TV scripts, timelines, Shakespearean plays... and, of course, intensely passionate and vocal opinions about the entirety of Doctor Who.

These are not your father's reviews. Now doesn't that just make you want to go buy it?

Huuunnngggrrryyy Think you know a thing or two about zombies? Think again. If you're going to keep your wits - and your brains - about you during a zombie attack, you need expert advice. Braaaiiinnnsss!: From Academics to Zombies gathers together an irreverent group of scholars and writers to take a serious look at how zombies threaten almost every aspect of our lives. Spawned from the viral publication "When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection," this multidisciplinary book draws on a variety of fields including biology, history, law, gender studies, archaeology, library science and landscape architecture. Part homage to zombie films and fiction, part cultural study, this collection humorously explores our deep-seated fear of the undead. Engaging and accessible, Braaaiiinnnnssss! will amuse academics and zombie fans alike.

Best of all, it's fairly heavy, so it might just be crucial when undead grandma rises from the grave and wants to eat your braaaiiinnnsss. So buy this book. Your life (and grandma's) may depend on it!

Click on the image to the left to go to see the table of contents and the ordering information. Or you can try Amazon.

Bonus: If you bought the print version, the last page was missing. And what better way to end an academic book than with a comedy index? Click here to download it for free. (If you bought the ebook, then the index was included, partly because you can make changes after the fact, but mostly because it was funnier that way.)

WITD I'm not just a disease modeller and international man of zombie mystery. Oh no. My interests run far and wide beyond such ephemeral geekery... and they run right into some utterly serious geekery. These books are my collective love letter to Doctor Who, my first and primary science fiction outlet.

Who is the Doctor is a fun and entertaining combination of episode guides and essays that is a must-have for all Doctor Who aficionados. The handbook explores all facets of the new series' first six seasons, providing an essential companion for the show's avid fans and casual viewers alike.

Oh, and this book won the Silver award for best tie-in nonfiction in the 2013 independent book publishers' awards. Which is pretty fancy. Experts agree: you probably want to read this book.

You can order it from Amazon or directly from ECW Press by clicking on the image on the left.



Time Unincorporated is a collection of the best essays and commentary from a range of Doctor Who fanzines, online articles and original commissions. Collectively, the essays derived from these sources form one of the most diverse compilations of Doctor Who writing ever produced. TU2 covers the Classic Series while TU3 covers the New Series. If you like Doctor Who, there's something in here for everyone.

You can order them from Amazon or directly from Mad Norwegian Press by clicking on the images on the left.

Disease ecology.

Oh yeah, and I also wrote a textbook. But, unlike just about every textbook ever, this one is written in a friendly and accessible style. I keep getting compliments on that, which is quite impressive for a book about mathematics.

Have you ever wondered how to create a mathematical model of an infectious disease? (Don't deny it, you know you have!) Ever burned with the passion to create your own pretty pictures in Matlab... where someone actually gave you the code, so you didn't have to learn it yourself? (Go on, admit it!) Ever wondered why nobody ever wrote a math textbook specifically to appeal to the masses? (Okay, this question may answer itself...) Well, this may be the book for you!

The book is a self-contained, accessible introduction to the basics of mathematics for students and researchers in the areas of biology, epidemiology, medicine and public health. It provides an overview of basic modelling, data-fitting and the tangled issue that is the basic reproductive ratio. Diseases covered include malaria, yellow fever, measles and AIDS.

This textbook is suitable for a second or third year undergraduate course combining modelling with computational software. You can order it here.

Note: It doesn't contain any zombies, but there is a fairly blatant reference to Doctor Who.

Selected media appearances

Current lab members

Click here for a list of former lab members.


Of sewage, disease and zombies

I started academic life in sewage. When it comes down to it, don't we all, really? But I did so a bit more literally than most, since I was studying sewage treatment and toxic waste cleanup for my PhD. This is a process called self-cycling fermentation and is kinda funky after you've spent five years thinking about nothing but that.

Still, it gave me good training in Applied Mathematics (my pure math days started in Australia and had a brief flirtation in my Master's degree in Canada, but then I gave into the dark side of mathematics and decided to apply myself). It also taught me Impulsive Differential Equations, which are a great tool and something more people should know about (although thanks to the zombies, now they probably do). It helps if you can think discontinuously, but that wasn't too much of a problem for me.

After my PhD, I did a postdoc at the University of Western Ontario, where I discovered infectious diseases. At first it was just the one, you know? A little HIV, you know you want to, all your friends are doing it... Before I knew it, I was studying malaria, then it was human papillomavirus. After that, it was all a blur of neglected tropical diseases that kept coming and coming and, oh god, then I was into some really hardcore stuff, man. And once you've tried modelling zombies, you can never go back... *sobs*

Oh, right, sorry about that. Let me start over.

I started doing immunological modelling of HIV with Lindi Wahl and really enjoyed it. We came up with a series of papers, which involved applying my Impulsive Differential Equations skills to drug-taking in order to create a complex HIV model and then use that to discuss drug resistance. This led to my most recent paper on adherence (which started life as a collaboration with Lindi, but she kindly pushed me out of the nest), which is one of the very few to deal with the question of adherence. Which is a shame, as the US department of health and human services called it the most urgent unanswered question in HIV research.

My second postdoc was at UCLA, which everyone in Canada thought was a dream come true, but being Australian I'd experienced actual warmth before, so I seemed to fit right in. I was part of the Disease Modelling Group in the School of Medicine, working on epidemiological models of HIV under Sally Blower. And that still sounds fancy.

Sally and I published a paper on possible perverse outcomes of HIV vaccines. As well as being a pretty high profile publication academically, this was the first paper my parents could actually read and not be bamboozled by. I got a lot of postive comments from non-academic friends and family... I also got a lot of sympathetic murmers from pure mathematicians when I told them that not only did all my math work get put into an appendix, it got put into a web-only appendix. Such is the price of leaving the cosy world of mathematics.

Our group also published a paper on female sex workers and HIV vaginal microbicides. I started off in the rectal microbicide team, but then switched to the vaginal team. The jokes were never-ending, I can assure you.

I then moved to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where I worked on zoonotic diseases, specifically malaria, Chagas' disease and West Nile Virus. I even got to go on a West Nile Virus field trip and stand around at the creek where it all happened in Chicago. It took me a while to realise that hey, maybe all those mosquitoes buzzing around my bare arms might not be the best idea... But I think there are two types of disease modellers: those who let it get to them and think they've caught everything under the sun and those who become incredibly blase about it. Thankfully I'm in the latter category.

After a whirlwind interviewing tour of the continent, I ended up at the University of Ottawa. Now I teach, write grants and organise conferences like every other professor. Unlike most of them, I can skate to work, which is quite the achievement in the eyes of my Australian family and friends. I'm still working on HIV, but have recently become interested in Human Papillomavirus (thanks to the new vaccine), malaria, various tropical diseases - and, of course, that terrifying infection known to humanity only as... zombies!

The zombies have grabbed quite a lot of attention. And rightly so, because who doesn't love the flesh-eating undead? A surprising number of people have emailed me to tell me that the model doesn't include the killing of the zombies (it does, in the impulsive eradication section) or that zombies don't come back to life when you kill them (I'm sorry, but they do; Shaun hits one with his car in Shaun of the Dead and then it comes back to life). The fact that I can have this kind of discussion about my academic work thrills me to bits. Except for that one guy who asked, apparently in all seriousness, if I'd help him create a zombie virus. Now that's scary.