CSC 341 Grinnell College Spring, 2012
Automata, Formal Languages, and Computational Complexity

  Assignments   Instructor   Textbook   Schedule ( .dvi format / pdf format / postscript )
  Course Work   Deadlines   Collaboration   Cell Phones   Accommodations   Grading

This course explores the logical and mathematical foundations of computer science by exploring the following topics in some depth:

Topics related to space complexity, intractability, approximation and probabilistic algorithms, and public-key encryption will be included as time permits.

While some applications may be discussed from time to time, this course will emphasize the formal underpinnings and theory of computer science.


Henry M. Walker

Office: Science 3811
Telephone: extension 4208

Office hours are posted weekly on the bulletin board outside Science 3811, with additional hours possible by appointment. You may reserve a half hour meeting by signing up on the weekly schedule, but please sign up at least a day in advance.


Michael Sipser, Introduction to the Theory of Computation, Second Edition, Thomson/Course Technology, 2006, ISBN: 13: 976-0-534-95097-2 and 10: 0-534-95097-3.

Additional Resources: Numerous on-line materials allow users to simulate various models of formal machines. Here are a few examples:


While the schedule for this course is expected to evolve, a Tentative Class Schedule is available in .dvi , pdf, and postscript formats.

Also, if you are logged into the departmental network and want a copy printed, click duerer to have a copy printed on the printer duerer .

Course Work

This course will involve written assignments, oral presentations, and tests.

  1. Written Assignments: Exercises will be assigned regularly throughout the course.

  2. Oral Presentations: The subject of the theory of computation includes the classification of numerous classical problems. During the semester, students (working in groups) will present at least two of these problems, together with an outline of their classification.

  3. Hour Tests: Following the Tentative Class Schedule (.dvi format / pdf / postscript), two hour tests are tentatively scheduled for Monday, February 20, and for Wednesday, March 16. In addition, according to the preliminary schedule, a take-home test will be handed out on Friday, April 27, and due on Friday, May 4.

  4. Exam: Following the published exam schedule, an exam is scheduled for 9:00 am on Tuesday, May 15, during exam week. Early in the semester, class members will discuss the possibility of an oral exam option.

  5. Extra Credit Opportunities: Computer science is a wide-ranging discipline, and courses can cover only selected pieces. To encourage students to expand their horizons, students may earn 2 points extra credit for each Thursday Extra or other departmental talk, by attending the talk and writing a short (4-8 sentence) summary or response. Logistically, when a reasonable statement is received, the student will receive 2 points extra credit counted toward homework assignments. Additional extra credit opportunities may be announced through the semester.


Late Work will not be accepted, as it interferes with normal grading and with preparation for other parts of this course. As homework may be handwritten, exceptions will not be granted for computer system malfunctions.

Exceptions: Although dates for assignments, tests, and the final exam are firm, I understand that circumstances arise when you are not able to attend class.


Collaboration often will be allowed on problems from the textbook, but collaboration normally will NOT be allowed on supplemental problems and tests. To avoid confusion, the rules for collaboration on homework are included in the specification of each assignment.

Cell Phones, Text Messaging, and E-Community Devices

Cell phones, text-messaging devices, and other social-networking connections may not be used in this class. If you bring such equipment to the classroom, it must be turned off before the class starts and stay off throughout the class period. Use of such equipment is distracting to those nearby and will not be tolerated.


If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please let me know early in the semester so that your learning needs may be appropriately met.  You will need to provide documentation of your disability to the Director of Academic Advising. Feel free to talk to me if you have questions or want more information.


This instructor's grading philosophy dictates that the final grade should ultimately be based upon each student's demonstration of her or his understanding of the material, not on the performance of the class as a whole nor on a strict percentile basis. The following scheme is proposed as a base for how the various assignments and tests will be counted in the final grade.

Written Assignments: 46%
Oral Presenations: 10%
Hour Tests: 24%
Exam: 20%

This document is available on the World Wide Web as

created 4 January 2008
last revised 6 February 2012
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For more information, please contact Henry M. Walker at