Computing Solutions to Society's Challenges

December 8th, 2016 / Advancement

Students in Computer Science class

“It is hard to say what miracles or challenges the future will bring, but this much is clear: computer science is critical to the world’s future and to Princeton’s mission, and we will need to invest in it aggressively to sustain the excellence of our superb department.”

—President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 

Computer science powers the work of many disciplines. If a molecular biologist needs to match up millions of pairs of genes, or a humanist wants to mine databases to understand the evolution of English prose, computers make it possible. 

Princeton’s computer science department, part of the University’s renowned engineering school, is distinguished by its deep expertise in both the theoretical foundations of computing and the many applications of computing in modern life. Its faculty collaborates with colleagues throughout campus, from the Woodrow Wilson School to the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. President Eisgruber has called the department an “intellectual powerhouse.” 

Computer science has become Princeton’s most popular major, and students from all disciplines flock to the department’s courses. They realize that a background in computing will be beneficial in any path they pursue. “I see our department as a part of every student’s experience, a lever for everyone’s research, and a leader in using computer science to tackle major societal challenges," said Jennifer Rexford '91, chair of the Department of Computer Science and the Gordon Y. S. Wu Professor in Engineering.

A few years ago, computer science majors predominantly headed for Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Today, they also combine their computer skills with other passions. Take, for example, the alumna who analyzes data for the Democratic National Committee, or the senior who helped create cloud-based software to link emergency first responders to essential information. 

Central to Discovery 

Here is just a sample of the computer science research Princeton faculty are conducting: 

  • Stamping out software bugs: Andrew Appel ’81, Princeton’s Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science, leads a team of researchers from Princeton and elsewhere working to eliminate the programming errors that open our lives to hackers and introduce mistakes in computer-generated information. 
  • Autism: The lab of Olga Troyanskaya, a professor of computer science and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, has created a gene map of the brain that appears to be helpful in understanding the genetic basis of autism. 
  • Big data: Sanjeev Arora, the Charles C. Fitzmorris Professor in Computer Science, works on the theoretical foundation of machine learning algorithms, which are techniques for analyzing massive amounts of data. He examines why and when these algorithms work well.
  • Information privacy and security: Arvind Narayanan, an assistant professor of computer science, leads the Princeton Web Transparency and Accountability project, which aims to uncover how companies are collecting and using our personal information. 

Tools for a Digital World 

Computers have revolutionized the way we learn, work, and communicate, and the field continues to grow, as does its popularity among students. Princeton needs to expand the faculty and develop resources in order to continue to provide the highest quality educational experience and remain at the forefront of the computing revolution.

For information on supporting computer science, contact Jane Maggard, associate dean for development, engineering and applied science, at or 609.258.4973 or Tom Roddenbery, associate director, strategic priorities, at or 609.258.6122.