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Suggested Undergraduate Research Topics

Links to many research areas in the department may be found here while links to projects may be found here.

Prof. Andrew Appel, Room 219- On Leave Fall 2013

  • Research Areas: Formal methods, programming languages, compilers, computer security.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Automated theorem proving (suggestion: take COS 441 first).
    2. Trustworthiness of voting machines and/or internet voting.
    3. Computer game-playing programs.

Prof. Sanjeev Arora, Room 307

  • Research Areas: Uses of randomness in complexity theory and algorithms; Efficient algorithms for finding approximate solutions to NP-hard problems (or proving that they don't exist); Cryptography.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Implement one of recently discovered algorithms for "recycling" random bits, and study how well it does in practice.
    2. Show that finding approximate solutions to NP-complete problems is also NP-complete (i.e., come up with NP-completeness reductions a la COS 487).
    3. Experimental Algorithms: Implementing and Evaluating Algorithms using existing software packages.
    4. Design and implementation of graph partitioning algorithms (possibly leading to a publication).
    5. Modeling the human brain using random graphs.

Prof. David August, Room 209 ---On Leave Fall 2013 & Spring 2014

  • Research Areas: Computer Architecture and Compilers, and Green Energy.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Any interesting topic in computer architecture or compilers.

Prof. David Blei, Room 419

  • Research Areas: machine learning, graphical models, computational statistics and text analysis.
  • Prof. Blei advises interesting machine learning or computational statistics projects. Example research areas are spectral clustering, approximate posterior inference, social network analysis, or time series analysis.

Prof. Mark Braverman, Room 411

  • Research Areas: computational complexity, algorithms, applied probability, computability over the real numbers, game theory and mechanism design, information theory, applications of machine learning in healthcare and medicine.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Topics in computational and communication complexity.
    2. Applications of information theory in complexity theory.
    3. Algorithms for problems under real-life assumptions.
    4. Game theory, network effects, and mechanism design.
    5. Computation involving dynamical systems, fractals, and cellular automata.
    6. Game theory and machine learning applied to problems motivated by applications in healthcare.

Prof. Moses Charikar, Room 305

  • Research Areas: Design and analysis of algorithms, particularly approximation algorithms, on-line algorithms and efficient algorithms for dealing with large volumes of data.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Reconstructing evolutionary trees from biological data.
    2. Algorithms for clustering data - theory as well as impementation.
    3. Investigating the gap of mathematical programming relaxations for optimization problems. (This requires a strong math background).
    4. Any other topic in advanced algorithms or discrete mathematics.

Prof. Bernard Chazelle, Room 404

  • Research Areas: Natural Algorithms, Computational Geometry, Sublinear Algorithms.
  • Independent Research Topics
    1. Natural algorithms (flocking, swarming, social networks, etc).
    2. Sublinear algorithms
    3. Self-improving algorithms
    4. Markov data structures

Prof. Douglas Clark, Room 309

  • Research Areas: Computer architecture and organization; architecturally-focused performance analysis.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Diagnose, repair, and possibly redesign the user interface of my father's 30-year-old Turing Machine. Requires digital logic design skills, plus some mechanical engineering, or perhaps a partner.
    2. Cycles Per Instruction (CPI) is a great performance measure but is hard to estimate without a highly detailed simulation of the hardware. Simple analytic models of CPI can be very wrong for certain programs and certain processors. Using good simulators and/or a real machine, show how bad such models can be.
    3. Other topics, depending on student interest.

Prof. David Dobkin,

  • Research Areas: Visualization, computational geometry, pervasive computing, software engineering.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Building applications using Wireless and Handheld devices.
    2. Reconstructing jigsaw puzzles.
    3. Face recognition.

Dr. Robert Dondero, Room 206

  • Research Areas: Software engineering; software engineering education.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Develop or evaluate tools to facilitate student learning in undergraduate computer science courses at Princeton, and beyond.
    2. In particular, can code critiquing tools help students learn about software quality?

Prof. Zeev Dvir, Room 405

  • Research Areas: Research Areas: computational complexity, pseudo-randomness, coding theory and discrete mathematics.
  • Independent Research: I have various research problems related to Pseudorandomness, Coding theory, Complexity and Discrete mathematics - all of which require strong mathematical background

Dr. Christiane Fellbaum, Room 412

  • Research Areas: theoretical and computational linguistics, word sense disambiguation, lexical resource construction, English and multilingual WordNet(s), ontology
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Anything having to do with natural language--come and see me with/for ideas suitable to your background and interests.
    2. In the past, students have worked on extensions and interfaces for WordNet (English and WN in other languages),
    3. applications of WordNet(s), including:
      1. Foreign language tutoring systems,
      2. Spelling correction software,
      3. Word-finding/suggestion software for ordinary users and people with memory problems,
    4. Machine Translation (on the word level)
    5. Sentiment and Opinion detection

Prof. Edward Felten, 302 Sherrerd Hall

  • Research Areas: Computer security and privacy; Internet software; technology law and policy.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Technology for open government.
    2. Computer security and privacy.
    3. Digital media distribution.
    4. Copy protection and peer to peer technologies.
    5. Electronic voting.
    6. Technology, society and public policy.
    7. Any other interesting or offbeat topic.

Prof. Rebecca Fiebrink, Room 408

  • Research Areas: Computer music, human-computer interaction
  • I am on leave beginning in October 2013, so I will not be taking on additional independent work students this year.

Prof. Adam Finkelstein, Room 424

  • Research Areas: computer graphics, animation.
  • Ideas for independent Research Topics:
    1. Computer-generated drawings from 3D models.
    2. Tools for making visual art using computer graphics.
    3. New methods for computer animation.
    4. Techniques for medical visualization.
    5. Experiments where the data is collected via the internet.
    6. Any interesting project in computer graphics.

Prof. Michael Freedman, Room 308

  • Research Areas: Distributed systems, security, networking
  • Independent Research Topics:

Projects related to virtual worlds, datacenter systems and networks, new Internet architectures, untrusted cloud storage and applications, and peer-to-peer systems. Please see our group website at for an example of research areas.

Prof. Thomas Funkhouser, Room 422

  • Research Areas: Computer Graphics, Computer Vision.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Develop methods for 3D scanning of interior environments.
    2. Investigate methods for recognizing objects in 3D scans.
    3. Develop components of a system to reconstruct 3D models of cities from scannned data.
    4. Help build systems for creating new 3D models using a large repository of existing models.
    5. Any other projects related to computer graphics or shape analysis.

Prof. Brian Kernighan, Room 311

  • Research Areas: application-specific languages, document preparation, user interfaces, software tools, programming methodology
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Application-oriented languages, scripting languages.
    2. Tools; user interfaces; web services.
    3. AMPL and optimization.
    4. Joint work with other departments.
    5. For a list of less than half-baked ideas Look Here

Dr. Shiva Kintali, Room 312

  • Research Areas: Computational Complexity, Graph Theory and Combinatorial Optimization.
  • Prerequisites: Reasonable mathematical maturity, knowledge of algorithm design and analysis.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Topics related to Graceful Tree Conjecture, graph reconstruction conjecture, graph coloring and Pfaffians.
    2. Topics related to Graph Isomorphism, Isomorphism of bounded treewidth graphs, approximating treewidth of special classes of graphs.
    3. Topics related to expander graphs, space-efficient computation and the L vs NL problem.
    4. Topics related to directed versions of treewidth (Eg: directed treewidth, D-width, DAG-width, Kelly-Width).
    5. Topics related to metric embedding and flow-cut gaps.
    6. Topics related to Speech synthesis, Semi-supervised learning, Collaborative filtering and Recommendation algorithms.

Prof. Andrea LaPaugh, Room 304

  • Research Areas: Search and retrieval of information; data mining, particularly clustering; combinatorial algorithms
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Investigating new characterizations of the graph structure of the Web or other social networks.
    2. Experimental evaluations of clustering algorithms.
    3. Data analysis within social networks.
    4. Other topics with an information discovery or management aspect, including novel applications using databases or information retrieval.

Prof. Kai Li, Room 321

  • Research Areas: Parallel architectures and systems; distributed systems; operating systems.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Design, implement and evaluate practical methods for image and audio similarity searches.
    2. Seamless shared visualization on large-scale displays.
    3. Simulation studies of asymmetric heterogeneous chip multiprocessor architecture.

Dr. Xiaoyan Li, Room 410

  • Research areas: Information retrieval, novelty detection, question answering and text mining
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Explore new statistical retrieval models.
    2. Passage retrieval models and relevance feedback models.
    3. Evaluating existing document clustering techniques.
    4. Explore fast and efficient document clustering approach.
    5. Any interesting project related to information retrieval and text mining.

Prof. Margaret Martonosi, Room 204

  • Research Areas: Computer architectures and the hardware/software interface, mobile networks, and technology for developing regions.

Possible research topics include:

  • Green Data Centers
  • Mobile Computing
  • Cell phone applications and programming models
  • Energy-efficient computer architecture

Or email ( and pitch an idea roughly in this space!

Dr. Christopher Moretti, Room 206

  • Research areas: Distributed systems, high-throughput computing, computer science/engineering education
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Expansion, improvement, and evaluation of open-source distributed computing software.
    2. Applications of distributed computing for "big science" (e.g. biometrics, data mining, bioinformatics)
    3. Software and best practices for computer science education and study, especially Princeton's 126/217/226 sequence or MOOCs development
    4. Sports analytics and/or crowd-sourced computing

Dr. Arvind Narayanan 308 Sherrerd Hall

Research areas: privacy, security, tech policy, cryptography, social networks.

Independent research topics. Here's a sampling. Feel free to propose your own.

1. Figuring out what the "bad guys" are doing with your data

If someone really wanted to find out personal things about you online, how far could they get? Let's investigate this by writing a bot which, given an identity (say, an email address), collects and aggregates information from various sites about that person. Ideally, it should be able to automatically figure out which information is current and which is out of date, reconcile conflicts, make new inferences based on multiple pieces of data, and hook into the "deep web" — pages that are not directly visible on web searches.

2. Reverse engineering the Web to expose poor security and privacy

Web companies track us online and compile extensive databases of our personal information. The personal behavioral profiles created through tracking are used for targeted advertising, price discrimination, targeted political emails, and various other practices that make people uncomfortable. I have an ongoing project to automatically reverse engineer cookies stored in browsers (which may be encoded or encrypted) to figure out what information companies have collected about you and what they are using it for. We are just getting started, and there are many interesting sub-projects to work on.

3. Use machine learning to improve privacy

"Google Now" serendipitously shows you information you might find useful, such as driving time to your home when you're away. Can we serendipitously show people information to improve privacy? For example, when you're out on Halloween night with your friends, your phone could automatically figure out that one of them has a habit of always posting pictures publicly on Facebook, and notify you of this, so that you could request that they not take pictures of you.

4. Classify and rank research blogs, set up aggregators

I run the Theory of Computing blog aggregator which is read by a significant fraction of the theory research community. It's a very efficient way to stay on top of the research conversation. I'd like to set one up on every research subtopic (and there are hundreds), but it is time-consuming.

But this can be automated! Here's how: 1. collect URLs of research blogs by programmatically exploring the web 2. use machine learning to group them into topics, and rank them by authority within topics 3. set up aggregators on each topic. This is a challenging project involving machine learning, large datasets and web programming, but potentially highly impactful.

Prof. Vivek Pai, Room 322

  • Research Areas: Network/Web servers, operating systems, high-performance applications.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Use data from CoMon to analyze workload behavior on PlanetLab. For example, can you automatically detect things about people's programs, can you cluster usage patterns, etc., etc.
    2. Content Distribution Networks (CDNs) are commonly used to deliver Web content, but no standard monitoring system exists to easily gauge their relative performance. Can you build one that reasonably compares different CDNs?
    3. Tools like CoVisualize are useful for periodically-updating data. Can you take this concept and apply it to data that changes much more rapidly, such as every second

Prof. Larry Peterson, Room 208 - On Leave Fall 2013

  • Research Areas: Networked systems, communication protocols, operating systems.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Topics related to planetary-scale network services, overlay networks, and the system infrastucture needed to support them.

Dr. David Pritchard, Room 410

Prof. Jennifer Rexford, Room 306

  • Research areas: networking, programmable networks, network management, network virtualization
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Enterprise and data-center networking solutions built on OpenFlow and NOX. For example, middleboxes like firewalls, NATs, intrusion detection systems, and load balancers, routing techniques that equalize latency between gaming or financial-services clients, adaptive measurement of network traffic, etc.
    2. Techniques for boot-strapping communication in regions without conventional Internet and cellular network connectivity (e.g., developing regions, disaster areas, countries censoring communication), using commodity equipment like phones and access points.
    3. Any interesting project in data networking.

Prof. Szymon Rusinkiewicz, Room 406

  • Research Areas: computer graphics; acquisition of 3D shape, reflectance, and appearance of real-world objects; novel methods for physical fabrication of objects with particular shape/appearance.
  • Independent Research Topics (updated fall, 2011):
    1. Construct an efficient and easy-to-use 3-D scanning system for large collections of fragments of archaeological artifacts.
    2. Investigate algorithms for computing and visualizing differences between ancient coins struck from similar, but slightly different, dies.
    3. Develop a system combining body-mounted cameras and/or Kinect with tactile or auditory feedback to help blind people avoid obstacles.
    4. Use computer-controlled milling machines to fabricate bas-reliefs, using substrates of heterogeneous materials.
    5. Adapt a MakerBot or other hobbyist-grade manufacturing device to use multiple materials.
    6. Implement (and perform the appropriate theoretical sampling/aliasing analysis for) a rendering system that explicitly accounts for the red/green/blue sub-pixels of LCD displays.
    7. Other projects in computer graphics and vision, or technologies for documenting and studying cultural heritage objects.

Prof. Robert Schapire, Room 407 On Leave Fall 2013

  • Research Areas: Machine learning
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Implement and run experiments on assorted machine learning algorithms.
    2. Apply machine learning algorithms to specific tasks.
    3. Any other interesting project related to machine learning.

Prof. Robert Sedgewick, Room 319 - On Leave Spring 2014

  • Research Areas: Scientific analysis of algorithms, Analytic combinatorics
  • Independent Research Topics:

Professor Sedgewick is willing to advise any student who comes up with an idea for independent work from his books, papers, courses, or in his current areas of active research. Send mail or stop by to discuss possible topics if you are interested.

Prof. Jaswinder Pal Singh, Room 423

  • Research Areas: Parallel computing systems and applications: parallel applications and their implications for software and architectural design; system software and programming environments for multiprocessors. Special interest in applications of computing in computational biology, especially protein structure determination and simulating the immune system.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Work with a team to build new types of "persistent search" or alerting/notifcation services that can be exposed to and used by real users. Could involve indexing and matching methods, end-user interfaces, data sourcing and interpretation, or building new information services.
    2. Implement and study novel methods for topic-specific or vertical information discovery and search, as well as for high-quality persistent search.
    3. Study and develop methods to infer insights from data in different application areas.
    4. Design and implement a parallel application. Possible areas include graphics, compression, biology, among many others. Analyze performance bottlenecks using existing tools, and compare programming models/languages.
    5. Develop and implement algorithms for selected problems in computational biology, especially simulating the immune system or analyzing immunological data.

Prof. Mona Singh, Room 420 - On Leave Spring 2014

  • Research Areas: computational molecular biology, as well as its interface with machine learning and algorithms.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Whole and cross-genome methods for predicting protein function and protein-protein interactions.
    2. Analysis and prediction of biological networks.
    3. Computational methods for inferring specific aspects of protein structure from protein sequence data.
    4. Any other interesting project in computational molecular biology.

Prof. Robert Tarjan, Room 324

  • Research Areas: Data structures; graph algorithms; combinatorial optimization; computational complexity; computational geometry; parallel algorithms.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Implement one or more data structures or combinatorial algorithms to provide insight into their empirical behavior.
    2. Design and/or analyze various data structures and combinatorial algorithms.

Prof. Olga Troyanskaya, Room 320

  • Research Areas: Bioinformatics; analysis of large-scale biological data sets (genomics, gene expression, proteomics, biological networks); algorithms for integration of data from multiple data sources; visualization of biological data; machine learning methods in bioinformatics.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Implement and evaluate one or more gene expression analysis algorithm.
    2. Develop algorithms for assessment of performance of genomic analysis methods.
    3. Develop, implement, and evaluate visualization tools for heterogeneous biological data.

Prof. David Walker, Room 211

  • Research Areas: Programming languages, type systems, compilers, data processing and security.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. PADS: a domain-specific research language for specifying data formats and automatically generating tools that and do cool things with the specified format (See here for more info):
      1. How can we improve the PADS toolkit?
      2. Can we automatically generate specialized compression, obfuscation, or encryption tools?
      3. Can we generate tools specialized for particular domains such as computational biologiy? Financial analysis? Physicis? Computer networking?
      4. PADS is currently implemented on top of C and O'Caml. Can we provide PADS for other languages such as Python or Haskell?
      5. Given example data (like the output of "ls -l"), can we automatically learn the format of the data using clever algorithms or machine learning?
      6. Can we design hardware and/or software mechanisms that will tolerate bit flips and other faults caused by cosmic rays?
      7. Can we develop a type system or other software analysis that can determine whether software is fault tolerant?
    2. Any other interesting project that involves type systems, compilers, data processing, fault tolerance, language-based security, aspect-oriented programming, theorem proving, logic or logical frameworks.

Dr. Kevin Wayne, Room 207 - On Leave Fall 2013

  • Research Areas: design, analysis, and implementation of algorithms; data structures; combinatorial optimization; graphs and networks.
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Design and implement computer visualizations of algorithms or data structures.
    2. Develop pedagogical tools or programming assignments for the computer science curriculum at Princeton and beyond.
    3. Develop assessment infrastructure and assessments for MOOCs.

Opportunities outside the department

We encourage students to look in to doing interdisciplinary computer science research and to work with professors in departments other than computer science. However, every CS independent work project must have a strong computer science element (even if it has other scientific or artistic elements as well.) To do a project with an advisor outside of computer science you must have permission of the department. This can be accomplished by having a second co-advisor within the computer science department or by contacting the independent work supervisor about the project and having he or she sign the independent work proposal form.

Here is a list of professors outside the computer science department who are eager to work with computer science undergraduates.

Prof. Mung Chiang, B238, E Quad.

  • Professor of Electrical Engineering, Associate Faculty of Computer Science

Director of the EDGE Lab

  • Research Interests:
    1. Networking
    2. Wireless
    3. Network Economics
    4. Social Networks
  • Check out the new Princeton EDGE Lab,:


  • Undergrad Research Topics:
  • We have a few openings for undergrad researchers in the Princeton EDGE Lab in 2011-2012
    1. TUBE,: Time dependent pricing for wireless data plans (with user trials in US and international operators).
    2. QAVA: Quota aware video adaptation (with a user trial in Princeton).
    3. Online social network influence maximization
    4. Intelligent processing of product ratings on Amazon
    5. Location based match making
    6. Energy efficient cloud computing (joint work with Google)
    7. Traffic management in cloud computing (joint work with HP)
    8. Satellite capacity overlay network on LTE 4G (joint work with SES)
    9. Cellular/Femto/WiFi network interaction (joint work with Intel, AT&T, and Verizon)
    10. Fairness evaluation tool (joint work with Telcordia)

Prof. Hilary Coller, Room 140 Lewis Thomas Lab

  • Research Areas: computational approaches to analysis of large-scale genomics data sets
  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Data integration projects with large scale data sets: gene expression and microRNA expression.
    2. Clustering algorithms and data visualization algorithms to represent patterns of genetic change.
    3. Pattern matching algorithms to define genetic regions that are overrepresented compared with chance.
    4. Pattern matching and data integration algorithms to integrate data generated by the laboratory with publicly available data sets from tumors or microbial species.
    5. Other topics of mutual interest.

Prof. Sharad Malik, Engineering Quad, Room B224

  • Research Areas:
    1. Design of reliable hardware systems
    2. Verifying complex software and hardware systems

Prof. Ken Norman, Room 3-N-18 Green Hall

Potential research topics

  • Methods for decoding cognitive state information from neuroimaging data (fMRI and EEG)
  • Neural network simulations of learning and memory

Dr. Janet Vertesi, Society of Fellows and Sociology Dept, Room 104A, Scheide Caldwell House

  • Research areas: Human-Computer Interaction (qualitative); Informatics and Information Science; Socio-Computational Systems; Sociology of Technology; Virtual Organizations as Sociotechnical Systems; Computer-Supported Cooperative Work; Ubiquitous Computing; User-Centered Computing; Technology and Transnationalism (including ICT4D); New media art and critical technical practice; Sustainable design.
  • About this research: Have you ever stopped to think what will happen to your new chip, software, or iPhone app once it encounters the Real World? Human-Computer Interaction is an exciting and expanding community of computer scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, and critical theorists who examine computing "in the wild" and are dramatically changing our sense of the possibilities of human technological experience. My research takes place at the intersection of these dynamic disciplines and uses qualitative methods to build new software and hardware tools that support a wider range of technological experiences. To learn more, visit my website:
  • Independent Research topics:
  • 1. NASA's Cassini Mission to Saturn is a large-scale, international, planetary exploration venture that involves hundreds of scientists and engineers across NASA and ESA. How do members of the Cassini team work together to conduct science with a robot in orbit around another planet? How do they use technologies to do their work at a distance from each other and from their spacecraft? Based on these understandings, how can we better design software environments and tools to support their work, and the work of other distributed teams? This project is based on an NSF Computer Science grant and there are lots of opportunities to get involved with a NASA mission, looking at one piece of the puzzle.
  • 2. Culturally Embedded Computing. No one ever uses technologies in a vacuum. Whether playing World of Warcraft or making a call on your iPhone, software and technological practices are embedded in cultural systems, appropriated differently in new cultural contexts, and suffused with local values. Through qualitative user studies of these different cultural contexts, can we use our understanding of these varied settings to better design technologies that "fit"?
  • 3. Critical Technical Practice. From "Moore's Law" to "friending" on Facebook, certain cultural assumptions and values are built into our computational systems that we take for granted. If we invert, challenge or change those assumptions, what new systems and possible ways of interacting might result?
  • 4. Any interesting way to use qualitative research methods to better understand how users "in the wild" appropriate technologies into their daily lives, to inform the design of new technological systems and possibilities.

Assistant Professor Stefan van Zwam, Dept. of Mathematics, 1010 Fine Hall

  • My research area is matroid theory, and within that field I am interested in computational aspects. To that end, I am co-developing a library of functions to be included in the Sage open-source mathematics software.
  • There are many small sub-projects, which ask for the implementation of algorithms from the combinatorial optimization literature. Examples are matroid intersection, matroid union, matroid matching, testing connectivity, decomposing graphs or matroids into 3-connected "blocks", … For projects such as these, students must master the theoretical concepts, understand the mathematically described algorithm, and fill in the gaps to arrive at an implementation -- and hopefully an efficient one.

Prof. David Wentzlaff, Engineering Quadrangle, Room 228

  • Research Areas: Computer Architecture, Parallel Computing, Cloud

Computing, Operating Systems, Sustainable Computing.

  • Independent Research Topics:
    1. Instrument Princeton's Green (HPCRC) data center
    2. Investigate power utilization on an processor core implemented in an FPGA
    3. Dismantle and document all of the components in modern electronics. Invent new ways to build computers that can be recycled easier.
    4. Other topics in parallel computer architecture or operating systems