Computer Science major tackles a brain bender

February 12, 2008

Computer Science major Christopher Griffin ’08 is immersed in a puzzle. This May, he’ll be the first to graduate from the Honors program with a major in Computer Science, and he is hard at work on his project – exploring how to send untraceable messages.

“In spending hours and hours using a computer, I figured that someone had to make all of it work,” he said of his decision to pursue computer science. “Why can’t I make it work too?”

Interest in McDaniel’s Computer Science major has grown steadily since its inception in 2005. Students who have graduated with the major may pursue software development, engineering or government work, among many other fields.

“Our philosophy is that Computer Science is about designing algorithms, a set of precise steps that solve a problem,” says Assistant Professor Computer Science Sara More. “The computer is a tool that we use but isn’t the major focus of what we’re doing. Students think, ‘I love playing computer games and I want to write them.’ That’s one thing you can do. But there are many possibilities.”

Griffin, a Salisbury native, is examining a classic puzzle called The Dining Cryptographer’s Problem, to see how it relates to binary notation – the way computers communicate in 0’s and 1’s. Cryptography is the science of secret communication.

In the scenario, three cryptographers go out to dinner. The waiter says the meal has been paid for. The three decide to come up with a way to find out, while respecting
each other's right to pay anonymously, whether one of the three paid for the meal or whether their company paid.

The answer involves applying mathematical skill and logic to a series of coin tosses. Ultimately, the process can be modified into a way messages can be sent through computers with maximum untraceability.

Next, Griffin will investigate multiparty problems related to, but different from Dining Cryptographers and try to design new protocols to solve them.