Owen Astrachan

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Owen Astrachan is Professor of the Practice of Computer Science at Duke University, where he is also the department's director of undergraduate studies. He earned an AB degree in Mathematics from Dartmouth College in 1978 (with distinction, Summa Cum-Laude, and Phi Beta Kappa), an MAT in teaching mathematics from Duke in 1979 and MS and Ph.D degrees in computer science from Duke in 1989 and 1992.[1]


He is the author of Astrachan, Owen (2000), A Computer Science Tapestry: Exploring Programming and Computer Science with C++, McGraw Hill, ISBN 0-07-232203-9 . At Duke he won the Richard K. Lublin Distinguished Teaching Award[2] in 2002 for "the ability to engender genuine intellectual excitement, ability to engender curiosity, knowledge of field and ability to communicate that knowledge". He also won the Robert Cox teaching award at Duke in 1995 and an Outstanding Instructor award while teaching for a semester at the University of British Columbia.

Astrachan has won a number of National Science Foundation (NSF) awards.[3] In 2007 he received one of two NSF CISE Distinguished Education Fellow[4] awards recognizing his role "as an accomplished, creative, and innovative leader who serves the nation as a spokesperson and force for change in undergraduate computing education."

This NSF grant and award follows a CAREER award in 1997 to investigate "practical and pedagogical concerns of the computer science and software engineering communities with an integrated approach to the use, learning, and teaching of [design] patterns"[5] an award in 1996 to develop materials in support of "an application oriented, apprenticeship learning approach to the CS2 course"[6] and other NSF awards for developing curricular materials to support education, research, and visualization[7] in 1996 and for developing modules and courses for ubiquitous and mobile computing[8] in 2000.


In creating assignments for programming courses, Astrachan's Law Parlante, Nick (2003), "Astrachan's Law", ACM SIGCSE Bulletin 35 (4): 26, doi:10.1145/960492.960518  refers to a tenet in developing assignments:

Do not give an assignment that computes something that is more easily figured out without a computer, such as the old Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion problem... Astrachan's Law reminds us to do a little showing off with our computation.

Several assignments developed by Astrachan have appeared in the Nifty Assignments Archive including

Luis von Ahn was a student in two undergraduate courses at Duke under Astrachan. When visiting Duke in 2008, von Ahn discussed his PageRank assignment at Carnegie Mellon University. The assignment has been picked up at Cal Tech's Ideas Behind the Web course, but also at Duke University in the Rankophiliac assignment for Compsci 182s Technical and Social Foundations of the Internet. Example for this project.


Programming Contests[edit]

Owen Astrachan was a member of Duke's ACM's Programming Team that placed fourth in the world in 1989[12] and seventh in the world in 1990. He has coached a Duke team to the world finals every year but one since 1994, which is the most appearances in the world finals of any US team.[13] In 2006 Business Week followed the Duke team during the world finals and reported on how badly they did.[14]

For four years, 1990–1993, he and other graduate students ran the first distributed, Internet-based programming contest.[15] In both the 1992 and 1993 contests[16] Sergey Brin participated first as an undergraduate from the University of Maryland then as a graduate student from Stanford as did Sanjay Ghemawat[17] (from MIT) in 1992 and 1993, Daniel Sleator (from CMU) in 1992, Dawson Engler (from MIT) in 1993 and Martin Odersky (from Yale) in 1993.


Astrachan was president of the Carolina Godiva Track Club in 1990 when at 34 he ran nearly all his personal bests[18] including 4:37.8 for the mile, 16:31 for the 5K, 34:39 for the 10K, and 2:51.46 at the Boston Marathon.

In the 2013 outdoor rankings [2]

  • 800m 2:23.2, ranked 13th
  • mile 5:29.3, ranked 14th
  • 3000m 11:52.2, ranked 12th


Astrachan is well known as the creator of "The All-Green Dance". Beginning as a small-scale, local phenomenon, "The All-Green Dance" has blossomed into a world-renowned craze. Astrachan teaches his dance to his students at Duke University every year, see [3].


  1. ^ biography
  2. ^ Dukenews article
  3. ^ National Science Foundation awards database - Owen Astrachan
  4. ^ NSF Announcement
  5. ^ NSF Award 9702550
  6. ^ NSF Award 9554910
  7. ^ NSF Award 9634475
  8. ^ NSF Award 0088078
  9. ^ Parlante, Nick; Clancy, Mike; Pattis, Rich; Reges, Stuart; Zelenski, Julie; Astrachan, Owen (1999), "Nifty Assignments Panel", ACM SIGCSE Bulletin 31: 354–355, doi:10.1145/384266.299809 
  10. ^ Parlante, Nick; Clancy, Mike; Reges, Stuart; Zelenski, Julie; Astrachan, Owen (2001), "Nifty Assignments Panel", ACM SIGCSE Bulletin 33: 412–413, doi:10.1145/366413.364797 
  11. ^ Parlante, Nick; Murtagh, Thomas; Sahami, Mehran; Reed, David; Stone, Christopher; Heeringa, Brent; Reid, Karen; Astrachan, Owen (2009), "Nifty Assignments Panel", ACM SIGCSE Bulletin 41: 483, doi:10.1145/1539024.1509031 
  12. ^ ACM contest history pages
  13. ^ Browsing results from
  14. ^ Hamm, Steve (May 1, 2006), "A Red Flag In the Brain Game", Business Week  [1]
  15. ^ Astrachan, Owen; Kotz, David; Khera, Vivek; Nyland, Lars (1993), "The Internet Programming Contest: a report and philosophy", Proceedings of the SIGCSE Symposium 25: 48–52, doi:10.1145/169073.169105 
  16. ^ ftp-site
  17. ^ Google Fellow
  18. ^ http://www.cs.duke.edu/~ola/running/times.html

External links[edit]