Minta Martin Lecture


“Abstract Interpretation–based Formal Verification of Complex Computer Systems”



Prof. Patrick M. Cousot


Jerome Clarke Hunsaker Visiting Professor

of Aerospace Systems


Friday, May 13, 2005

4:00 – 5:30pm


Bartos Theatre

 Wiesner Building (E15-054)



Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


The New England Section of the

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics










The Lecturer

The Professor Patrick Cousot is professor of Computer Science at École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France.

Following his degree in Engineering from École des Mines in 1971, he received his PhD in Computer Science and his Doctorate ès Sciences in Mathematics from the University Joseph Fourier of Grenoble, in 1974 and 1978, respectively.

Professor Cousot  joined the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in 1974 as a junior research scientist and was promoted to senior research scientist in 1978. CNRS is a publicly-funded research organization that defines its mission as producing knowledge and making it available to society.


In 1979, Professor Cousot was appointed as Professor des Universités and moved to the University of Metz, France where he organized teaching and research in computer science.


In 1984, Professor Cousot was appointed as the first Professor of Computer Science at École Polytechnique, a state supported institution of higher education and research, the most prestigious engineering Grande École in France since its foundation in 1794. He created and headed the Computer Science Laboratory (LIX) of École Polytechnique.


In 1991, Professor Cousot joined École Normale Supérieure (ENS). Founded in 1794, École Normale Supérieure is the highest-ranked French scientific and literary Grande École. It prepares students who are geared towards fundamental or applied research and teaching at the university level.


At École Normale Supérieure, Professor Cousot chairs all  Computer Science educational activities. He leads the research group on Abstract interpretation and semantics.


His research activity is mainly on the safety and security of complex computer systems and includes specification and programming languages; compilation; semantics, mathematical logics, proof and automatic verification methods; static analysis. He is a member of international research committees (such as the ACM Murray Grace Hopper Award selection committee).


Professor Cousot is the founder of “Abstract Interpretation”, a theory he introduced in his Doctorate ès Sciences thesis.


Abstract interpretation is a theory of sound approximation of mathematical structures, in particular those involved in the behavior of discrete systems, formalizing conservative reasoning on approximate descriptions of computer systems. Its applications range from the design of semantics and proof methods, to static analysis where it is used for construction effective analysis algorithms for the automatic, static, semantics-based and conservative determination of dynamic properties of infinite-state programs. Such properties of the run-time behavior of programs are useful for testing, typing, optimizing, transforming, watermarking, verifying, and proving the safety and security of hardware and software computer systems. Over the past few years, abstract interpretation has proven very successful in automatically verifying complex properties of real-time, safety critical, embedded systems.


Professor Cousot was awarded the silver medal of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in 1999 for his seminal work on abstract interpretation. The CNRS Silver Medal honors researchers at the beginning of their rise to fame, but who are already recognized nationally and internationally for the originality, quality, and importance of their work. He was named Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Mérite and des Palmes académiques. He has been awarded honorary degree (Dr.-Ing. E.h.) from Fakultät Mathematik und Informatik der Universität des Saarlandes.


The Lecture

“Abstract Interpretation-based Formal Verification of Complex Computer Systems”

The computing power of computers, which has doubled every eighteen months since 1975, is now so huge that it is possible to embed very large and extremely sophisticated software in ever more complex systems, from small devices to large-scale, interconnected, distributed, real-time systems. This includes the most highly mission-critical and safety-critical computer-based infrastructures, as produced by the aerospace, automotive, customer electronics, defense, energy, industrial automation, medical device, rail transportation and telecommunication industries.


The exponential expansion of software in all application domains leads to the unfortunate situation where software engineers can build increasingly large software, but are less and less confident in the quality of the software they produce. Defaults in such complex software are not so uncommon, as can be experienced everyday by computer end-users. Such bugs can have catastrophic consequences as the most famous, and certainly most costly one, to date,  the overflow at the origin of the failure of the Ariane 5.01 flight on 4 June 1996.


Because present-day software engineering, which is almost exclusively manual, with very few useful automated tools does not scale up, a grand challenge is therefore to develop knowledge, methods, technologies and tools to master software complexity.


Mathematical results show that the automatic software verification problem is indeed extremely hard.


Recent progress in the rigorous analysis of software and embedded systems has been possible thanks to abstract interpretation, formalizing the idea of sound approximation of complex mathematical structures, in particular those involved in the semantic models of computer systems. Abstract interpretation can be applied to the systematic construction of methods and effective algorithms to approximate undecidable or very complex problems in computer science such that the semantics, the proof, the static analysis, the verification, the safety and security of software and hardware computer systems.


Abstract interpretation-based static analysis, which automatically infers dynamic properties of computer systems, has been very successfully applied in recent years to automatically verify complex properties of real-time, safety critical, embedded systems, such as the verification of absence of runtime errors in the primary flight control software of commercial airplanes.


Former Lecturers



Sir William Hawthorne


I.E. Garrick


Prof. Howard W. Emmons


Mr. George P. Sutton


Gen. Benjamin Kelsey


Prof. W. P. Jones


Samuel Herrick


Hans Ziegler


Dr. Abraham Hyatt


Prof. Arthur E. Bryson, Jr.


Dr. John Evvard


Dr. Robert W. Seamans, Jr.


Dr. Alfred J. Eggers


Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill


Dr. Dean Chapman


Dr. Guiseppe Colombo


Prof. Frank Marble


Dr. Joseph F. Shea


Dr. Jason Speyer


Dr. Nicholas A. Cumpsty


Mr. Duane McRuer


Dr. Stanley Weiss


Dr. John Deyst


Dr. Robert Lovell


Dr. Terrence Weisshaar


Dr. Nancy Leveson


Dr. Thomas J. Allen


Prof. Ann P. Dowling


Dr. Steven D. Dorfman


Mr. Allen C. Haggerty


Prof. Kim J. Vicente


Dr. Raymond J. Leopold


The Lectureship

The Minta Martin Lecture is delivered in conjunction with a professorship established at MIT fifty years ago in honor of Jerome Clarke Hunsaker, a leading figure in aviation and, for many years Head of the MIT Aeronautical Engineering Department. Major Lester D. Gardner, founder of the Institute of Aerospace Sciences, conceived and aided in founding this endowed chair.  To emphasize its national character, Glenn L. Martin contributed a special gift in April 1954 providing for presentation of this lecture, named after his mother, Minta Martin, who inspired him to his aeronautical achievements.  The Minta Martin Lecture is given by the Hunsaker Professor in several Aeronautical centers throughout the nation each year.