What is the science in computer science?

Ask computer scientists to define computer science and chances are you will not get a consensus. This is because, unlike physics and chemistry, which have been around for thousands of years, computer science is relatively new and its organizational structure is still evolving. Given this fact, how would high-school students make up their minds about studying this field?

They might wonder: Do they have the aptitude for it? Would they enjoy learning it? What do computer scientists do? And is this field science or engineering?

To answer such questions, the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science (RCI) has invited York computer scientist Hamzeh Roumani (left) to give a lecture on "The Science in Computer Science: A Journey Through Abstractions" Oct. 28 at the University of Toronto. It is one of six in RCI’s fall series of free public lectures, which are open to the public but primarily intended for high-school students and their families.

In his lecture, Roumani will explain how researchers in the natural sciences – from physics to astronomy and biology to neuropsychology – gain a deeper understanding of the world by applying the scientific method. Then he will explain how researchers have used the same method to gain an understanding of the hardware and software in computer science. The journey winds through layers of semiconductors, gates and chips, and then through the elusive barrier that separates hardware from software to arrive at languages, algorithms, information and finally the very fabric of thoughts. The journey also leads to fields within the discipline and what computer scientists do in research and industry. Roumani is an award-winning teacher who has received York’s University-Wide Teaching Award.

RCI was formed in 1849 and is the oldest scientific community in Canada. Its mission is to enhance public awareness about science. It is best known for its public lectures, held on Sunday afternoons in the fall and winter at the University of Toronto. Speakers come from many scientific disciplines, and audiences are encouraged to ask them questions and discuss ideas after the lectures.

Roumani will give his lecture Oct. 28 at 3pm at the Macleod Auditorium, Medical Sciences Building, University of Toronto. For information on the lecture series, directions and parking, visit the Royal Canadian Institute Web site and click on Lecture Series.