Professor of Computer Science; Commons Head, Cook
In 2014, Prof. Matthew Dickerson completed his 25th year as a member of the computer science department at Middlebury College. He earned a BA from Dartmouth College in 1985 and PhD in Computer Science from Cornell University, and was the first faculty member with a Ph.D. in computer science hired by the college. During his 25 years at the college he has received more than ten federal funded research grants including grants through the National Academy of Sciences, NATO, and various NSF programs. His primary research area has been algorithms and data structures for geometric, geographic, and spatial computing—an area known as computational geometry in which he is internationally known for his work on Voronoi diagrams. He has also done research and published several papers on computer science education, and is in the final year of an NSF grant exploring the use of agent-based modeling in the introductory computer science curriculum. Currently, Professor Dickerson is working on a research project on spatially explicit agent-based modeling of killer whales in southeast Alaska in collaboration with biologists and computer scientists at the NOAA and the University of Alaska.
Prof. Dickerson also did graduate work in Old English Language and Literature and has published several books including a recent medieval historical novel titled The Rood and the Torc, set in mid 7th century Europe. He is an internationally known scholar on the works of J.R.R.Tolkien with four published books about Tolkien as well as book chapters on Tolkien in five other volumes.
Computer Science Research
Matthew Dickerson's primary areas of research in computer science are:
- Algorithms and Data Structures for Computational Geometry
- Individual-based Modeling and Multi-agent Simulation in Ecology
- Computer Science Education
- Geographic Information Systems
Perhaps a broader category describing Dickerson's research interest in spatial computation, which includes geometric and geographic computation, as well as many types of modeling that explicit represent space or "environment". Since coming to Middlebury College, he has published more than 40 papers and videos, and received 9 federal funded grants for his research in computational geometry. His work on Voronoi Diagrams and the Minimum Weight Triangulation is internationally known. He has also served as national president of CCSC (Consortium of Computing Sciences in Colleges) as well as a regional board member of the Northeast CCSC (CCSCNE). He has published several articles and videos on computer science education.
Writing and Literature
Matthew Dickerson has also continued his research and writing about literature, with a special interest in environmental literature and nature writing, and in mythopoeic literature (especially that of J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S.Lewis). He is also an internationally known Tolkien scholar. He has published several books about literature, including: Ents, Elves and Eriador: the Environmental Vision of J.R.R.Tolkien (with Jonathan Evans, University Press of Kentucky, 2006) and Narnia and the Fields of Arbol: the Environmental Vision of C.S.Lewis (with David O'Hara, University Press of Kentucky, 2009) which bring together his interests in environmental and mythopoeic literature. His other titles include:
- From Homer to Harry Potter: a Handbook of Myth and Fantasy (Brazos Press, 2006)
- Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in the Lord of the Rings (Brazos Press, 2004)
- Hammers and Nails: the Life and Music of Mark Heard (Cornerstone Press, 2004)
- The Finnsburg Encounter (Crossway Books, 1991)
Courses offered in the past four years.
▲ indicates offered in the current term
▹ indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]
CSCI 0190 - Computer Models & Simulation
Computer Models and Multi-Agent Simulation
In this course we will explore agent-based computer models and simulations as a means of studying phenomena from both biological and social sciences. Agent-based simulation will then be used as a basis for introducing individual-based modeling and complex adaptive systems. A significant amount of time will be spent teaching the NetLogo programming language as a software tool for developing simulations. We will also introduce some of the important topics in the discipline of computer science, including algorithmic reasoning and data abstraction. No prior experience in programming is assumed. This course counts as an environmental studies lab science cognate. 3 hrs. lect./lab
Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Fall 2013
CSCI 0200 - Math Foundations of Computing
Mathematical Foundations of Computing
In this course we will provide an introduction to the mathematical foundations of computer science, with an emphasis on formal reasoning. Topics will include propositional and predicate logic, sets, functions, and relations; basic number theory; mathematical induction and other proof methods; combinatorics, probability, and recurrence relations; graph theory; and models of computation. (One CSCI course at the 0100-level previously or concurrently; formerly CSCI 0102) 3 hrs. lect./lab
CSCI 0301 - Theory of Computation
Theory of Computation
This course explores the nature of computation and what it means to compute. We study important models of computation (finite automata, push-down automata, and Turing machines) and investigate their fundamental computational power. We examine various problems and try to determine the computational power needed to solve them. Topics include deterministic versus non-deterministic computation, and a theoretical basis for the study of NP-completeness. (CSCI 0200 and CSCI 0201) 3 hrs. lect./disc.
Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2013
CSCI 0302 - Algorithms and Complexity
Algorithms and Complexity
This course focuses on the development of correct and efficient algorithmic solutions to computational problems, and on the underlying data structures to support these algorithms. Topics include computational complexity, analysis of algorithms, proof of algorithm correctness, advanced data structures such as balanced search trees, and also important algorithmic techniques including greedy and dynamic programming. The course complements the treatment of NP-completeness in CSCI 0301. (CSCI 0200 and CSCI 0201) 3 hrs. lect./disc.
Spring 2011, Spring 2014
CSCI 0390 - Spatial Agent-Based Modeling ▲
Spatial Agent-Based Modeling
In this course students will learn efficient data structures and design techniques for spatially-explicit agent-based modeling using the NetLogo programming language. Agent-based modeling techniques will be applied to problems in the social and natural sciences, mathematics and computational sciences, and agent-based games. In this course we will explore advanced programming features of NetLogo such as links, GIS extensions, 3D modeling, and the profiler. Students will design and implement a significant term project. (CSCI 0190 or CSCI 0201).
CSCI 0500 - Advanced Study ▲ ▹
Individual study for qualified students in more advanced topics in computer science theory, systems, or application areas. Particularly suited for students who enter with advanced standing. (Approval required) 3 hrs. lect.
Fall 2010, Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015
CSCI 0702 - Senior Seminar
Each student will complete a major capstone project in this course. This project can take the form of either (1) a thesis on a topic chosen with the advice of a faculty member, or (2) a group programming project approved by the computer science faculty. All students will present their work at the end of the semester. In addition, during the academic year, all seniors are expected to attend a series of lectures designed to introduce and integrate ideas of computer science not covered in other coursework. (Approval required) 3 hrs. lect./disc
Spring 2013, Spring 2014
ENVS 0500 - Independent Study
A one- or two-semester research project on a topic that relates to the relationship between humans and the environment. The project, carried out under the supervision of a faculty member with related expertise, must involve a significant amount of independent research and analysis. Students may enroll in ENVS 0500 no more than twice for a given project. (Approval only)
Winter 2011, Winter 2012, Winter 2013, Winter 2014
FYSE 1302 - C.S. Lewis Phil/Imagination
C.S. Lewis: Ecology, Philosophy, and Imagination
In this seminar we will explore the writings of C.S. Lewis, with an eye to how important philosophical and theological ideas evident in his non-fiction essays and books find expression in his major works of fantastic fiction - The Chronicles of Narnia and the Ransom Trilogy. Particular emphasis will be given to the implications of his view of nature and ecology. We will focus on Lewis’s own writing, especially his fantasy novels, but will also read a small selection of writing about Lewis, such as Alan Jacobs’ The Narnian.
FYSE 1363 - Humans, Computers, & Souls
Humans, Computers, and Souls
In this seminar we will contrast two philosophies of human nature, known as physicalism and integrative dualism. The physicalist view, represented by noted figures such as philosopher Daniel Dennett and biologist Richard Dawkins, understands humans as complex biochemical computers whose minds are reducible to physical brains. A competing view, referred to by philosopher Charles Taliafero as “integrative dualism”, sees humans as both spiritual and physical beings. We will touch on philosophy of computation, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of soul, with readings from Dennett, Dawkins, Taliafero, and also Raymond Kurzweil, C.S.Lewis, and others. 3 hrs. sem.
INTD 1059 - Tolkien's Middle-Earth
Exploring Tolkien's Middle-Earth
In a long letter to his publisher describing his Middle-earth writings, J.R.R.Tolkien once wrote, “I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fair-story—the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backclothes.” In this course we will explore how Tolkien achieved this, looking at the ideas and relationships running between his romantic fairy-story (The Hobbit), his heroic romance (The Lord of the Rings), and his cosmogonic myth (The Silmarillion).