Python SciPy Tutorial - A Guide for Beginners

February 25, 2021


Computing is an essential part of scientific research. Mathematical, engineering, scientific and other technical problems are complex and require computing power and speed. Python provides the SciPy library for solving technical problems computationally.

This article presents a SciPy tutorial and how to implement the code in Python with examples.

Python SciPy Tutorial


  • Installed Python 2.7 or Python 3
  • A Python environment for running the code.
  • SciPy library installed.
  • NumPy library installed (Follow our guide: How to Install NumPy).
  • Matplotlib library installed for plotting (optional).

Note: Python 2 no longer has support as of 2020. Consider switching to Python 3. Install Python 3 by following one of our guides: How to install Python 3 on CentOS 7, How to install Python 3 on CentOS 8, How to install Python 3 on Ubuntu, How to install Python on Windows.

What is SciPy?

SciPy (Scientific Python) is an open-source scientific computing module for Python. Based on NumPy, SciPy includes tools to solve scientific problems. Scientists created this library to address their growing needs for solving complex issues.

SciPy vs NumPy

The NumPy library (Numerical Python) does numerical computation. Scientists use this library for working with arrays since NumPy covers elementary uses in data science, statistics, and mathematics.

SciPy covers advanced calculations and functions. This library adds more data science features, all linear algebra functions, and standard scientific algorithms.

Note: Anaconda includes the SciPy, NumPy, and Matplotlib libraries by default. Check out our guides on installing Anaconda: How to Install Anaconda on CentOS 7, How to Install Anaconda on CentOS 8, How to Install Anaconda on Ubuntu 18.04 or 20.04.

Why Use SciPy?

The SciPy library builds on top of NumPy and operates on arrays. The computational power is fast because NumPy uses C for evaluation.

The Python scientific stack is similar to MATLAB, Octave, Scilab, and Fortran. The main difference is Python is easy to learn and write.

Note: Some Python environments are scientific. If you need to choose one, check out our comparison of the Best Python IDEs and Code Editors.

SciPy Subpackages

The SciPy library has different groups of subpackages. There are two ways to import subpackages from the SciPy module:

import scipy.<sub package name> as <alias>

Or alternatively:

from scipy import <sub package name> as <alias>

In both importing methods, the alias is optional.

SciPy Functions

SciPy includes many of the primary array functions available in NumPy and some of the commonly used modules from the SciPy subpackages.

To import a function from a subpackage, use:

from scipy.<subpackage> import <function>

Note: Some of the NumPy functions available in SciPy show deprecation warnings.

Basic Functions

To get help and information for any SciPy function, use the help() command:

help(<name of function>)
Output of the help command with parameter

The help() command does not need parameters. After executing without parameters, a prompt appears where you input the function name.

Output of the help command without a parameter

Another quick way to get help with any command in Python is to write the command name, put a question mark at the end, and run the code.

Special Functions

Special functions in the SciPy module include commonly used computations and algorithms. All special functions accept NumPy arrays as input. The calculations are elementwise.

To import the special subpackage, use:

import scipy.special as special

Or alternatively:

from scipy import special

To import a specific function from the special subpackage, use:

from scipy.special import <function name>


Evaluate the factorial of any number by running:

special.factorial(<integer or array>)

For example, to find the factorial of ten, use:

SciPy special factorial

Permutations and Combinations

To find the number of permutations, use:

special.perm(<number of elements>, <number of elements taken>)

For example, to see the number of permutations of three elements taken two at a time:

SciPy special permutations example

Similarly, find the number of combinations with:

special.comb(<number of elements>, <number of elements taken>, repetition=<True or False>)

To find the number of combinations of three elements taken two at a time with repetition, enter:

special.comb(6,2, repetition=True)
SciPy special combinations example

Permutations and combinations are used in computer science sorting algorithms.

Exponential Functions

Exponential functions evaluate the exponents for different bases.

Calculate the exponents of base ten with:

special.exp10(<integer or array>)

For example:

SciPy special exponent base 10 example

Computer science often uses exponential functions of base two:

special.exp2(<integer or array>)

Calculate the tenth power of base two with:


Logarithmic Sum of Exponentials

The Logarithmic Sum of Exponentials (LSE or LogSumExp) is an approximation used by machine learning algorithms. Calculate the LSE with:

special.logsumexp(<integer or array>)
SciPy special logsumexp example

Bessel Function

Bessel functions appear in wave propagation, signal processing, and static potential problems. Find the Bessel function of the first kind with:

special.jn(<integer order>, <integer or array>)

Take advantage of the full stack to visualize the Bessel function. To find the second-order Bessel function of the first kind, use:

#import stack
import scipy.special as special
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np
#The X-axis
x = np.linspace(1,50,100)
#Bessel function of the first kind order two
jn1 = special.jn(2,x)
SciPy special bessel function create example

Plot the results:

plt.title('Bessel function first kind order two')
plt.plot(x, jn1)
SciPy special Bessel function plot example

Note: Learn about a crucial mathematical operation in Python, raising a number to a power by reading our article Python Power Operator and Function.

Integration and ODE Functions

SciPy provides a subpackage for calculations with definite integrals. To import the integrate subpackage, use:

import scipy.integrate as integrate

Or alternatively:

from scipy import integrate

Import a specific function from the subpackage integrate with:

from scipy.integrate import <function name>

General Integration

Calculate a single variable integral with the quad function from the integrate subpackage:

integrate.quad(<function>, <lower limit>, <upper limit>)

The function input is defined using a lambda function.

For example, to calculate the definite integral of the function x+1 between zero and one:

from scipy import integrate
f = lambda x: x+1
integrate.quad(f, 0, 1)

The output shows two values. The first value is the evaluated integral, and the second is the error of estimation.

SciPy integrate quad example

Optimization Functions

SciPy has an optimization subpackage for finding the minimum or maximum of a function. The optimize subpackage includes solvers and algorithms for finding local and global optimal values.

To import the optimize subpackage:

from scipy import optimize

Or use:

import scipy.optimize as optimize

To import a specific function from the subpackage optimize, run:

from scipy.optimize import <function name>

Minimize a Function

Finding a minimum of a function is used in machine learning to lower an algorithm’s loss (or error).

For example, you can create a function and find the minimum. To do so, use the fmin function from the optimize subpackage in SciPy:

#Import stack
import numpy as np
from scipy import optimize
#Defining inverse sine function
def f(x):
    return -np.sin(x)
x = np.linspace(0,5,100)
#Starting point
start = 3
#Simplex algorithm for optimization
optimized = optimize.fmin(f,start)
SciPy optimize fmin example

To plot the result, run:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
plt.plot(x, f(x))
plt.scatter(optimized, f(optimized))
plt.legend(['Function -sin(x)', 'Starting point', 'Optimized minimum'])
SciPy optimize fmin plot example

Fourier Transformation Functions

SciPy includes a subpackage for Fourier transformation functions called fftpack. The transformations are Discrete Fourier Transformations (DFT). All transforms are applied using the Fast Fourier Transformation (FFT) algorithm.

To import the fftpack subpackage, use:

import scipy.fftpack as fftpack


from scipy import fftpack

Fast Fourier Transform

As an example, create a periodic function as a sum of three sine waves:

import numpy as np
freq_samp = 100
t = np.linspace(0, 1, freq_samp*2, endpoint = False )
f1, f2, f3 = 1, 5, 20
A1, A2, A3 = 3, 2, 1
x1 = A1*np.sin(f1*2*np.pi*t)
x2 = A2*np.sin(f2*2*np.pi*t)
x3 = A3*np.sin(f3*2*np.pi*t)
#Sum of waves
x = x1+x2+x3
SciPy fft defining a signal

Plot the waves using matplotlib:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
plt.xlabel('Time (s)')
SciPy plot signal in time domain

Next, apply the fft and fftfreq functions from the fftpack to do a Fourier transform of the signal.

from scipy import fftpack
A = fftpack.fft(x)
freq = fftpack.fftfreq(len(x))*freq_samp*2
SciPy fft and fftfreq example

Plot the results to see the frequency domain:

plt.xlabel('Frequency (Hz)')
SciPy fft frequency domain plot

Signal Processing Functions

The subpackage signal includes functions used in signal processing. To import signal, run:

import scipy.signal as signal

Or alternatively:

from scipy import signal


A common task in signal processing is convolution. The SciPy subpackage signal has the function convolve to perform this task. For example, create two signals with different frequencies:

import numpy as np
t = np.linspace(0,1,100)
f1, f2 = 5, 2
#Two signals of different frequencies
first_signal = np.sin(f1*2*np.pi*t)
second_signal = np.sin(f2*2*np.pi*t)
SciPy signal example signals

Plot the signals:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
#Plotting both signals
plt.plot(t, first_signal)
plt.plot(t, second_signal)
plt.xlabel('Time (s)')
SciPy signal plotting example signals

Import the signal subpackage from scipy. Use the convolve function from the signal subpackage to convolve the two signals:

#Importing the signal subpackage
from scipy import signal
#Convolving two signals
convolution = signal.convolve(first_signal, second_signal, mode='same')
SciPy signal convolve example

Plot the results:

#Plotting the result
plt.plot(t, convolution)
plt.xlabel('Time (s)')
SciPy signal convolve result plot example

Interpolation Functions

Interpolation is used in the numerical analysis field to generalize values between two points. SciPy has the interpolate subpackage with interpolation functions and algorithms.

Import the interpolate subpackage with:

import scipy.interpolate as interpolate


from scipy import interpolate

One Dimensional Interpolation

The SciPy interpolate subpackage has the interp1d function for one dimensional interpolation of data. As an example, create toy data using numpy:

import numpy as np
#Create toy data
x = np.arange(0,10,0.5)
y = np.sin(x)
SciPy interpolate data example

Interpolate the data with interp1d from the interpolate subpackage:

from scipy import interpolate
f = interpolate.interp1d(x, y)
#Create interpolation function
x_i = np.arange(0,10,3)
y_i = f(x_i)
SciPy interpolate interp1d example

Plot the results:

#Plot results
plt.plot(x_i, y_i)
plt.legend(['Interpolation', 'Data points'])
SciPy interpolate interp1d results plot

Linear Algebra

SciPy has a fully-featured linear algebra subpackage. The SciPy linear algebra subpackage is optimized with the ATLAS LAPACK and BLAS libraries for faster computation.

To import the linear algebra package from SciPy, run:

import scipy.linalg as linalg

Or use:

from scipy import linalg

All the linear algebra functions expect a NumPy array for input.


Calculate the determinant of a matrix with det from the linalg subpackage:

linalg.det(<numpy array>)

For example:

import numpy as np
#Generate a 2D array
A = np.array([[1,2],[3, 4]])
from scipy import linalg
#Calculate the determinant
SciPy linalg det example

Inverse Matrix

Determine the inverse matrix by using inv:

linalg.inv(<numpy array>)

For example:

import numpy as np
#Generate a 2D array
A = np.array([[1,2],[3,4]])
from scipy import linalg
#Calculate the inverse matrix
SciPy linalg inv example

Eigenvectors and Eigenvalues

Eigenvectors and eigenvalues are a matrix decomposition method. The eigenvalue-eigenvector problem is a commonly implemented linear algebra problem.

The eig function finds the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of a matrix:

linalg.eig(<numpy array>)

The output returns two arrays. The first contains eigenvalues, and the second has eigenvectors for the given matrix. For example:

import numpy as np
#Generate a 2D array
A = np.array([[1,2],[3, 4]])
from scipy import linalg
#Calculate the eigenvalues and eigenvectors
SciPy linalg eig example

Spatial Data Structures and Algorithms

Spatial data structures are objects made of points, lines, and surfaces. SciPy has algorithms for spatial data structures since they apply to many scientific disciplines.

Import the spatial subpackage from SciPy with:

import scipy.spatial as spatial


from scipy import spatial

A notable example of a spatial algorithm is the Voronoi diagram. For a given set of points, Voronoi maps divide a plane into regions. If a new point falls into a region, the point in the region is the nearest neighbor.

Note: Voronoi diagrams relate to the k-Nearest Neighbor algorithm in machine learning.

As an example, create a Voronoi diagram from twenty random points:

from scipy.spatial import Voronoi
import numpy as np
points = np.random.rand(20,2)
voronoi = Voronoi(points)
from scipy.spatial import voronoi_plot_2d
fig = voronoi_plot_2d(voronoi,show_vertices=False)
SciPy spatial voronoi example

Image Processing

SciPy has a subpackage for various n-dimensional image processing. To import the ndimage subpackage, run:

import scipy.ndimage as ndimage

Or use:

from scipy import ndimage

The SciPy misc subpackage contains a sample image for demonstration purposes. To import the misc subpackage and show the image:

from scipy import misc
from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
raccoon = misc.face()
#show image
SciPy ndimage and misc example

Import the ndimage subpackage and apply a uniform_filter to the image. Show the image to see the results:

from scipy import ndimage
filtered = ndimage.uniform_filter(raccoon)
SciPy ndimage uniform filter example

File IO (File Input / Output Package)

SciPy has a file input and output subpackage called io. The io subpackage is used for reading and writing data formats from different scientific computing programs and languages, such as Fortran, MATLAB, IDL, etc.

Import the io subpackage from SciPy with:

import as sio

Or use:

from scipy import io as sio


This tutorial provided the necessary ScyPy examples to get started. Python is easy to learn for beginners and scripts are simple to write and test. Combining SciPy with other Python libraries, such as NumPy and Matplotlib, Python becomes a powerful scientific tool. The SciPy subpackages are well documented and developed continuously.

For further reading, check out our tutorial on the Pandas library: Introduction to Python Pandas.

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Milica Dancuk
Milica Dancuk is a technical writer at phoenixNAP with a passion for programming. With a background in Electrical Engineering and Computing, coupled with her teaching experience, she excels at simplifying complex technical concepts in her writing.
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