New Centre for Applied Cryptographic Research

honors mathematician William Tutte

WATERLOO, Ont. -- The new Centre for Applied Cryptographic Research at the University of Waterloo will celebrate its official opening on Friday (June 19) by paying tribute to a mathematician whose calculations laid the foundation for the centre.

Distinguished professor emeritus William Tutte, now retired and an adjunct faculty member in the combinatorics and optimization department, has been named honorary director of the cryptography centre.

"Arguably the most famous mathematician on staff at UW, and grandfather of graph theory," Tutte is also being honored for his ground-breaking work at the British cryptanalytic headquarters at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, said Alfred Menezes, a fellow faculty member in the department.

At Bletchley Park, Tutte, as a young mathematician from the University of Cambridge, managed to break FISH, a series of German military codes for encrypting communications. Termed "the greatest intellectual feat of the whole war," the work on FISH led to the development of Colossus, "the world's first electronic computer," in which Tutte played a key role.

Tutte is also recognized as the "academic grandfather" of Prof. Scott Vanstone and Prof. Douglas Stinson, who hold endowed chairs with the cryptography centre. Both men did their PhD research under the supervision of Prof. Ron Mullin, whose own PhD was supervised by Tutte at UW.

After opening remarks at the ceremony in Davis Centre (Room 1350) on Friday at 3:30 p.m., Tutte will present a lecture on "FISH and I," providing an overview of his work on the famous project.

After completing four degrees, including his PhD at Cambridge, Tutte joined the faculty at the University of Toronto in 1948. In 1962, UW math Prof. Ralph Stanton and graduate student Ron Mullin went to Toronto to persuade Tutte to come to UW -- a decision he has never regretted.

Tutte had no qualms about moving from an established institution to an upstart university, "especially when I was offered a full professorship," he recalls. "Besides, Waterloo was much more interested in combinatorics than Toronto was, and my wife preferred to live in the country."

Although Tutte wryly admits that being appointed honorary director makes him feel a bit like a "museum piece," he acknowledged the historical connection between his work at Bletchley and the cryptography centre.

However, he noted, cryptography work was conducted in the First World War, as well, and dates back to the time of Julius Caesar.

While most of Tutte's research at UW did not apply directly to cryptography, his work in linear algebra provides some links. Best known for his research in graph theory that started when he was a student at Cambridge, Tutte was a member of the "Trinity Four," a group of undergrads who became fascinated with finding a way to dissect a square into smaller squares, all unequal in size.

"I got the reputation for being able to solve problems," he said, which led to his stint at Bletchley. Looking back on his career, Tutte believes his most significant research was the enumerative work on planar maps, connected with a number of different polyhedra.

Although some of his work on the "squaring of the square" has been useful in teaching electrical engineers about how electricity flows in a network of wires, "I don't worry much about practical applications."

Tutte was the recipient of a prestigious Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Prize in 1982 as "one of the most respected mathematicians in the world today," and elected to both the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Society of London. He retired from UW in 1985 and has returned to his home town of Newmarket, England, about a half an hour by bus from Cambridge, where he continues his research as a senior member of the university.

He's currently writing a paper on the dissection of rectangles into right-angled isosceles triangles -- bringing his work nearly full circle back to the square problem.

Already this year he's had a book, Graph Theory As I Have Known It, published by Oxford University Press, a project for which "the UW department did a lot of the editorial work. They've been very helpful."

The Centre for Applied Cryptographic Research will take a multi-disciplinary approach to research, with collaboration among the departments of combinatorics and optimization, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and pure mathematics. Sponsors include Certicom Corp., CITO, MasterCard International, Mondex International Limited, NSERC, Pitney Bowes, St. Jerome's University and UW.


Written by Barbara Elve, UW Gazette

Contact: Frances Hannigan, (519) 888-4027

From the UW News Bureau, (519) 888-4444

UW experts/releases:

Release no. 107 -- June 17, 1998