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Automata Theory

In the lecture about theoretical computer science you have seen finite automata, pushdown automata and Turing machines. All three of them operate on finite words. However there are other automata models and automata that do not operate on finite words, but e.g. on infinite words, on nested words, on trees, etc. In this seminar we will have a look at automata models that you have not seen in the lecture on theoretical computer science as well as on related topics.

Course type Seminar / Proseminar
Instructors Alexander Nutz, Christian Schilling
Kick-off meeting
Fri, October 21, 2016, 14:00 - 16:00 c.t., building 101, room SR 01 009/13
Presentations Thu, February 16, 2017, 9:00 - 13:00 & Fri, February 17, 2017, 9:00 - 16:00
building 101, room SR 00 010/14
Presentation language
English (Seminar) / German (Proseminar)
4 (Seminar) / 3 (Proseminar)
Course Catalog Advanced Topics in Automata Theory (Seminar)
Automatentheorie / Introduction to Automata Theory (Proseminar)


  • Jan. 11: We added a provisional schedule for the talks (was updated later the same day!). Please let us know if your time slot is not well-suited.
  • Nov. 8: We fixed the date and time for the seminar to February 16&17 (see the box above).
  • Nov. 4: We assigned the topics and reviewers and added a schedule for the deadlines (not for the talks, that date is still to be found). If you prefer a different deadline slot, please contact your supervisor soon.
  • Nov. 3: We added the proseminar talk evaluation form.
  • Nov. 2: On popular demand we will have a block seminar (both Proseminar and Seminar). We have created a Doodle for the first two weeks after the end of the lecture period. The link was sent in an email.
  • Oct. 22: Please send us a mail until Fri, October 28 that contains the following information.
    • a list of 5 topics that you want to present (with priorities); we may add some more topics at the beginning of the week
    • whether you are a seminar or a proseminar student
    • (optional) whether or not you prefer to work in a group of two students
    • (optional) whether or not you prefer a block seminar or a weekly seminar and what time constraints you have (early/late in the semester, the Friday slot, during or after the lecture period, etc.)
    • (optional) whether or not you are an ESE student
  • Oct. 19: The first meeting takes place on October 21 (the room was also changed).

Process of the seminar

  • You participate in the kick-off meeting, where we present the available topics. Feel free to hand in your favorite topics in advance.
  • You contact the instructors to obtain a topic. You may suggest a topic by yourself, pick one of the suggested topics, or find a topic suitable for you in a discussion with the instructors.
  • You have a meeting with your supervisor in which we discuss relevant literature and develop a very coarse sketch of your talk.
  • You write a proposal in which you explain what you are going to present in your talk.
  • You write an abstract of your talk.
  • You submit your abstract and your proposal via email to your supervisor (deadline: see schedule).
  • Your proposal is reviewed by two other participants.
  • You write two reviews about other participants' proposals and send them via email to the supervisor who sent you the proposals (deadline: one week after your received the proposals).
  • You receive reviews of your proposal (deadline: two weeks before your talk).
  • You submit your slides via email to your supervisor (deadline: see schedule).
  • You have a meeting with your supervisor in which you get feedback for your slides.
  • You give a ca. 30 min (Seminar) / 20 min (Proseminar) talk.
  • You attend the talks of all other participants.

Proseminar addition:

  • You evaluate the talk of two other participants using a checklist.

Proposals of the talk

The proposal should consist of around five pages in which you explain what you are going to present in your talk. The proposal may contain:

  • short overview for the reviewers (the reviewers will probably not know your topic)
  • structure of your talk
  • aspects of the topic that you present (why?) and ignore (why?)
  • examples occurring in the talk (why these examples? Is there a running example that can be used for demonstration?)
  • which definitions are presented formally? (why?), which definitions are just mentioned informally? (why?)
  • which notation is used? (why?)
  • which theorems are presented, which of them will be proven (why?), which proofs will be omitted (why?), will you use motivating examples in the proof?

Abstract of the talk

  • The abstract consists of one paragraph that summarizes what you present in the talk.
  • We will send an invitation for the seminar to all students and members of our chair. This invitation contains the abstracts of all talks.

The talk

  • The goal of your talk is that the audience (bachelor and master students, familiar with computer science in general, probably no experts in the topic) has the possibility to learn something new about an interesting topic. How well you achieved this goal will determine the grade of your talk.
  • In a seminar you have to show that you are able to present some topic to other people. You do not have to show how well you understood the topic for yourself. How well you understood the topic has no direct influence on your grade, but only how well you presented the topic to the audience.
  • You may use and copy any source of information (but do not forget to cite it). If you think your talk is just a "remix" of existing talks tailored to your audience, you might have done a great job. But do not let yourself be fooled by well-structured and fancy talks found in the web, each talk was prepared to a specific audience.
  • If you agree, we will put your slides on this web page. Keep in mind that if you have copied images in your slides this might not be possible anymore (copyright restrictions). Of course, it will not have any effect on your grade whether we may publish your slides or not.

Review of the proposal

  • Give a short summary of the talk based on the proposal (to detect misunderstandings right at the start).
  • Be generous with your criticism. It is very unlikely that a student will get a bad grade because you revealed some problems in his/her proposal. However, it is very likely that a student will get a better grade if he/she was able to resolve a problem in his/her talk, thanks to your review.
  • Give reasons for your criticism (e.g., "It is not possible to understand Lemma 2 because term foo was not explained.").  You are also allowed to give your personal opinions, if you do so mark them as such (e.g., "Theorem 1 is very difficult to understand, in my opinion you should give an example first.").
  • The following questions might be helpful to write your review
Is the proposal sufficiently well written to be readable?
Is the appearance and structure of the proposal appropriate?
Is the comprehensibility of the talk supported by relevant examples and figures?
Is the proposed structure of the talk sensible and balanced?
Are all propositions made by the author correct?
Is the line of reasoning concerning the presentation complete and accurate?
Has the author argued his/her case effectively?
Does the author use the common notation and terminology? Where would you suggest something different?
Is the schedule of the author sensible? Do you think the talk will fit into the time slot?

Evaluation of the talk

To provide feedback, we want to discuss some aspects of the Proseminar talks in public. Two other students fill out an evaluation sheet during the talk and we shortly discuss the strengths and weaknesses afterward.

For Seminar students this mode is optional.

Students can additionally receive private feedback upon request.


Your overall grade will be composed according to the following proportion.

  • 10% grade of your proposal
  • 20% grade of your reviews
  • 70% grade of your talk

Topics & literature

There is not a one-to-one correspondence between seminar talks and topics. Several students may give talks on the same topic, but present different aspects. The suggested literature should give you a first impression of the topics. We assign the exact literature in cooperation with you after you stated your preferences for the topic. More literature does not mean more reading, just more options.

If requested, some topics may also be presented in groups of two.

Some of the papers are only available via the network of our university (e.g., via vpn). If you have some problem accessing the papers, please ask us.

Topics are marked with a letter in parentheses to indicate which seminar mode they are suited for.

  • (S) = Seminar
  • (P) = Proseminar

Learning finite automata

Minimization of Mealy automata

Minimization of finite automata

Petri Nets

Büchi automata

Tree automata

Don't care words

Flanked finite automata

Visibly pushdown automata

Context-sensitive languages

Reachability in pushdown systems


Visibly pushdown automata



Not assigned

Ogden's lemma


Visibly pushdown automata

Context-sensitive languages

Parikh's theorem

Quotient for missing specifications


Provisional schedule for the talks

Each topic/talk has a slot number assigned. We have seven slots in total.

The following table contains the deadlines for the groups. Please note that "Review" stands for the review deadline for the specific group's proposals. Each student has to write reviews for two other students.

Date Proposal Review Slides
Fri, Nov. 25
Fri, Dec. 2 2 1  
Fri, Dec. 9 3 2 1
Fri, Dec. 16 4
3 2
Fri, Dec. 23 5 4 3
Fri, Jan. 13 6 5 4
Fri, Jan. 20 7 6 5
Fri, Jan. 27   7 6
Fri, Feb. 3     7
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