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London, Edinburgh, England, Scotland

Program Description

What do robot arms, origami models, spider webs, satellite arrays, bridges, and proteins all have in common? Each is a physical structure whose rigidity and flexibility is important to its use and function. The modern field of rigidity theory, a subfield of computer science, studies what sorts of structures give rise to flexible configurations (like a robot arm) and what sorts of structures give rise to rigid configurations (like a spider web or a suspension bridge). In this program we will study rigidity theory and computer science in the birthplace of rigidity theory, which began with the work of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell. As part of the CS 480 course, we will have the opportunity to interact with current researchers in the field of rigidity, as well as visit sites and museums related to Maxwell's life and work, including locations in London, Cambridge, and Edinburgh. We will also have opportunities related to the history of computer science in England including trips to Bletchley Park and that National Museum of Computing.

This program is designed to fulfill two upper level CS requirements for rising junior and senior computer science students. Courses will be held Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday with day trips planned on Wednesdays and longer excursions on the weekends.

Location Description

The program will have two home bases: London for the first three weeks and Edinburgh for the final two weeks. From these locations we will take day trips to a variety of other places including Greenwich, Cambridge, Lancaster, Kendal (for an overnight and a hike in the Lake District), and St. Andrews. In addition to course-related experiences, we plan on availing ourselves of the variety of cultural experiences the UK has to offer including but not limited to things like a Shakespearean play at the Globe Theatre in London, trips to London's world class art museums, sites (like the Tower of London and Edinburgh Castle) and visits to UK technology companies, etc.

Students will be given "Oyster cards" for travel on the London underground (covered by the program fee); will travel to Greenwich by boat along the Thames; to Cambridge, Lancaster, Kendal, and Edinburgh by train, and will use public transport (especially those double-decker buses) for transport around London.


John Bowers | | Computer Science

Sharon Simmons | | Computer Science


Students will be housed (most likely, two students per room) in a hotel in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London for the first three weeks and in a hotel near the city center in Edinburgh for the final two weeks. During the transition from London to Edinburgh we will spend two nights in the Lake District at a hotel in Kendal.

Students will be allocated a weekly meal stipend that will cover approximately 14 meals per week.

Additional Items to Consider


Each week courses are held Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday with a 2.5 hour morning class from 9-11:30 and a 2.5 hour afternoon class from 1:30-4. Wednesdays will include short excursions to various locations and Fridays/Weekends will include excursions of different length. Weekends will also afford students the opportunity to explore on their own.

Week 1: London
* Wednesday: Tour of London, visit the National Gallery and the Tate Modern
* Friday: Morning trip to the Science Museum of London and the Victoria and Albert

Week 2: London
* Wednesday: day trip to Greenwich by boat along the Thames.
* Friday: Day trip to Bletchley Park where Alan Turing and his team hacked the German Enigma machine and the National Museum of Computing

Week 3: London
* Wednesday: day trip to Cambridge by train with a visit to the Cavendish Museum and the UK Computing History Museum, punting (a type of boating) along the River Cam.
* Friday-Sunday: travel to Lancaster for meeting with rigidity theorists from the University of Lancaster, stay in Kendall, hike in the Lake District

Week 4: Edinburgh
* Wednesday: Walking tour of Edinburgh, afternoon hike in Holyrood Park
* Friday: Day trip to St. Andrew's University

Week 5: Edinburgh
* Wednesday: Tour of James Clerk Maxwell's birthplace.

Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 2.5

Students must be accepted to the computer science major and have completed CS 240, CS 261, and CS 227 with a grade of C- or better. Completion of CS 327 prior to the program is preferable but is not required.

Rising juniors or seniors

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application ($25 fee)
  • Short Essay
  • Resume
  • Interview with Program Director 
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU students

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 

apply now

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


CS 480: Selected Topics in Computer Science: Rigidity Theory and Computational Geometry (3 credits)

CS 430: Programming Languages (3 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.


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