Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Theoretical computer science

This area explores the fundamental and foundational aspects of computers and computation.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This area explores the fundamental and foundational aspects of computers and computation. Aiming to improve understanding of computation and its capabilities, limitations and future potential, this research area encompasses research around logic and semantics, and the study of algorithms, complexity and automata.

Researchers employ approaches including:

  • abstract models
  • formal and rigorous methods
  • logical concepts and semantics.

The Theory of Computation and Maths of Computing research areas were merged to form this research area.

This fundamental research area underpins much of the broader computer science field and has strong links with several branches of mathematics, for example:

  • logic
  • algorithms
  • combinatorics
  • numerical analysis.

This is an underpinning area with potential for transformative long-term impacts. Our strategy reflects the need to preserve its long-term health in the UK and that of the areas it underpins.


We aim to have:

  • a diverse area that includes foundational, theoretical research and novel theoretical computer science being applied to real problems, and shows evidence of long term research impacts
  • an area which reflects the UK’s well established standing and leadership in formal methods, semantics and related subjects
  • greater use of classical algorithmic techniques across computer science, incorporating fundamental mathematics and work on the study of computation and related subjects
  • built UK capability while maintaining the current strength of research area activity
  • strong leadership within the community working on theoretical computer science to ensure existing UK excellence is preserved over the long term
  • specialist capability to address strategic priorities, such as the growing need for safe, secure information and communication technologies
  • continued engagement between researchers and industrial partners, to test and prove the application of research to real or realistic problems.

Researchers should reflect on how they can address the challenges described in EPSRC’s Safe and Secure ICT priority.

Find out more about EPSRC’s Safe and secure ICT priority in the Information and communication technologies theme.

Researchers should exploit opportunities to work across discipline boundaries, ground their research in emerging computational paradigms and architectures, and maintain strong links with areas underpinned by theoretical computer science, including:

It is expected that researchers will build a stronger interface with mathematics in areas such as logic and combinatorics. This provides an opportunity for researchers to contribute to EPSRC’s Cross-disciplinarity and co-creation priority.

Find out more about Cross-disciplinarity and co-creation priority in the Information and communication technologies theme.

Why we're doing it

Theoretical computer science is a fundamental research area with potential for high impact, transformative research over the long term, especially through links to related fields such as cryptography, machine learning, verification, security, data science, quantum computing and the ‘Internet of Things’. It also underpins many areas of the UK information communications technology research landscape and has been identified as particularly important for the long term health of the following research areas by their respective communities:

Many aspects of UK theoretical computer science research are world leading, evidenced by a strong UK presence at major international conferences.

The UK is particularly strong in areas such as logic based approaches, semantics and formal methods. Research around algorithms and complexity in the UK is limited to a few pockets of exceptional research. The Alan Turing Institute is expected to influence the wider UK theoretical computer science research landscape through its focus on foundational and translational research to support data science.

Theoretical computer science in the UK has many industrial partners across a range of sectors, demonstrating that UK research in this area is considered to have a positive impact in a number of areas beyond academia. These partnerships enable trialling and testing of research developments in an industrial context and present opportunities for knowledge transfer as well as for spin-out companies.

Although the number of researchers is good, leadership is focused on a small number of fellowships and programme grants. Programme grants are considered vital for addressing strategic priorities in this area, as they bring together exceptional expertise.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Theoretical computer science.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 7 December 2023

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