The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Computer science

Computer science is the scientific knowledge accumulated with systematic methodology by computation or by the use of the computer.



Computer science (informally, CS, CSC or compsci) encompasses a variety of topics relating to computation, ranging from abstract analysis of algorithms and formal grammars, to subjects such as programming languages, program design, software and computer hardware.

Computer scientists study what programs can and cannot do (see computability), how programs can efficiently perform specific tasks (see algorithms and complexity), how programs should store and retrieve specific kinds of information (see data structures and databases), how programs might behave intelligently (see artificial intelligence), and how programs and people should communicate with each other (see human-computer interaction and user interfaces).

Most research in computer science has focused on von Neumann computers or Turing machines (computation models that perform one small, deterministic step at a time). These models resemble, at a basic level, most real computers in use today. Computer scientists also study other models of computation, including parallel machines and theoretical models such as probabilistic, oracle, and quantum computers.

Edsger Dijkstra said:

"Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes."

The renowned physicist Richard Feynman said:

"Computer science is not as old as physics; it lags by a couple of hundred years. However, this does not mean that there is significantly less on the computer scientist's plate than on the physicist's: younger it may be, but it has had a far more intense upbringing!"

Computer science has roots in electrical engineering, mathematics, and linguistics. In the last third of the 20th century computer science emerged as a distinct discipline and developed its own methods and terminology. The first computer science department in the United States was founded at Purdue University in 1962, while the first college entirely devoted to computer science was founded at Northeastern University in 1980. Prior to this, CS was taught as part of mathematics or engineering departments, for instance at the University of Cambridge in England and at the Gdansk University of Technology in Poland, respectively. Cambridge claims to have the world's oldest taught qualification in computing. Most universities today have specific departments devoted to computer science, while some conjoin it with engineering, with applied mathematics, or other disciplines.

Related fields

Computer science is closely related to a number of fields. These fields overlap considerably, though important differences exist

  • Computer engineering is the analysis, design, and construction of computer hardware.
  • Computer graphics is the field of visual computing, where one uses computers both to generate visual images synthetically and to integrate or alter visual and spatial information sampled from the real world.
  • Computer programming is the act of writing program code.
  • Information science or Informatics is the study of data and information, including how to create, interpret, analyze, store, retrieve, transfer, and manage it. Information science started as the scientific foundation for communication and databases. It also concerns about the ways people generate, use and find information (see Cognitive science).
  • Information security is the analysis and implementation of information system security, including cryptography.
  • Information systems (IS) is the application of computing to support the operations of an organization: operating, installing, and maintaining the computers, software, and data.
  • Lexicography focus on the study of lexicographic reference works and include the study of electronic and Internet-based dictionaries.
  • Linguistics is the study of languages, converging with computer science in such areas as programming language design and natural language processing.
  • Logic is a formal system of reasoning, and studies principles that lay at the basis of computing machines, whether it be the hardware (digital logic) or software (verification, AI etc.) levels.
  • Management information systems (MIS) is a subfield of information systems, that emphasizes financial and personnel management.
  • Mathematics shares many techniques and topics with computer science, but is more general. Theoretical computer science is the mathematics of computing.
  • Software engineering emphasizes analysis, design, construction, and testing of useful software. Software engineering includes development methodologies (such as the waterfall model and extreme programming) and project management.
  • Information Technology
  • Computing

The name of the field

The name "computer science" immediately gives the impression that the field is the study of computers, the everyday machines that run programs and perform computations. Nonetheless, the field (as noted above) is both wider and more abstract than this name would suggest. Alternate names such as "computation science" have been proposed, but the traditional name remains the most common.

In French, the discipline is named informatique, in German Informatik, and in Polish informatyka. However, informatics in English is not directly synonymous with computer science; it is actually more equivalent with information theory.

Major fields of importance for computer science

Mathematical foundations

Theoretical computer science


(see also electrical engineering)

Computer systems organization

(see also electrical engineering)


Data and information systems

Computing methodologies

Computer applications

Computing milieux


Prominent pioneers in computer science

The highest honor in computer science, analogous to the Nobel Prize, is the Turing Award. See list of computer scientists for many more notables.

See also

External links

The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy