CMPSCI 401: Theory of Computation

David Mix Barrington

Spring, 2008

This is the home page for CMPSCI 401. CMPSCI 401 is an advanced undergraduate core course in the theory of computation and will deal with formal language theory (finite automata, regular languages, grammars, and pushdown automata), computability theory, and complexity theory.

Instructor Contact Info: David Mix Barrington, 210 CMPSCI building, 545-4329, office hours M 1:30-2:30, Tue 11-12, Wed 2:30-3:30, Thu 1-2. I generally answer my email fairly reliably.

TA Contact Info: Vimal Mathew,, 5-1596. Office hours in LGRT 220, Tuesdays 2-3 pm.

The course is primarily intended for undergraduates in computer science and related majors such as mathematics or computer engineering. CMPSCI 311 (theory of algorithms) is the primary prerequisite, though this may be negotiable for students with a strong mathematics background. The mathematical techniques taught in CMPSCI 250 (or similar courses like MATH 300 or MATH 455) will be used heavily. No programming will be assigned, but familiarity with programming at the level of at least CMPSCI 187 (data structures) will sometimes be assumed. This is probably the mathematically most difficult course in the CMPSCI undergraduate curriculum. It is a semi-elective course -- it fills requirements for any CMPSCI major and many MATH majors, but should be taken only by students whose mathematical ability and/or motivation is average or above relative to CMPSCI majors.

The textbook for the course is Introduction to the Theory of Computation by Michael Sipser, second edition. This is a very good book: I will be following it very closely for my lectures, and it is a very good long-term reference, but it is rather expensive. The first edition is available more cheaply, and the main text of the two is virtually identical, but the second edition will be the source of the problems I assign and it has a large number of solved exercises. I have ordered the book through the Jeffrey Amherst College Store in downtown Amherst.

The course will meet for three lecture meetings a week, MWF 11:15-12:05 in LGRT 204. There is no formal attendance requirement but there may be occasional graded in-class activities.

There is also an scheduled honors section for the course called CMPSCI H07, a one-credit seminar intended for undergraduates in Commonwealth College (but open to non-CC students as well if there is room). I will lead a seminar on some topics related to the main course, such its connections to formal logic and abstract algebra. This seminar meets Fridays 3:30-4:30 p.m. in room A311 LGRC.

Announcements (22 May 2008):

Last modified 16 May 2009