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Mathematicians who changed the world: Alan Turing (1912-1954)

Alan Turing was a British Mathematician and Cryptographer (code-breaker) and is known today as the ‘Father of Computer Science’.

Turing is best known for helping the UK win the Second World War through his code breaking efforts at Bletchley Park, although this didn’t become public knowledge until 20 years after his death!

For many years before the war, the Germans had been using a machine called ‘The Enigma Machine’ to encrypt their secret messages so that no one else could read them. This machine was like a typewriter, except when you pressed one letter, a different one came up – this was your code!

However, what made it more difficult was this machine had 150 million million million settings – each day. The code would also change after every letter was pressed, so a double letter in one word may not be a double letter once encoded! Turing joined the team at Bletchley Park the day after the UK declared war on Germany. 

Turing created his own machine to help break the code – he would put a short phrase into this machine that he believed would be in the coded message. The machine would then go through lots of different codes until it found one that would fit. They then used this to decode the rest of the message, using an enigma machine of their own. 

Turing and his team worked as much as 20 hours per day, every day, in their efforts to break the code. It was later said the work of Turing and his team shortened the war by as much as four years!

Due to his mathematics skills, Turing saved many thousand lives and helped bring an end to the Second World War. He was awarded an OBE. He went on to become a pioneer of modern-day computing, so it is probably thanks to Turing that we are able to write this post today!

Discover more mathematicians who changed the world:


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