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Len Adleman Wins Turing Prize

April 14, 2003 —
Len Adleman Wins Turing Prize, Computer Science's Nobel Equivalent
USC School of Engineering Professor Honored for Collaboration on RSA Algorithm
Los Angeles: Leonard M. Adleman, Henry Salvatori Professor of Computer Science and Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Southern California is a co-winner of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)'s 2002 A. M. Turing Prize, for his contributions to public key cryptography.
At MIT in 1977, Adleman worked with Drs. Ronald L. Rivest and Adi Shamir to develop the RSA code, which has become the foundation of an entire generation of technology security products. It has also inspired important work in both theoretical computer science and mathematics. RSA is an algorithm - named for Drs. Rivest, Shamir and Adleman - that uses number theory to provide a pragmatic approach to secure transactions. It is today's most widely used encryption method, with applications in Internet browsers and servers, electronic transactions in the credit card industry, and products providing e-mail services.
The A.M.Turing Award, named after computer pioneer Alan Turing, is considered the most prestigious in computer science. It carries a $100,000 prize, with funding provided by Intel Corporation.
The RSA scheme provides secure communications over distances between parties that have not previously met, reversing historical conventions that required the parties to exchange secret keys prior to communication. Because the new key exchange algorithm eliminated this inconvenient and often insecure step, it provided the ideal mechanism for private communications over electronic networks. The RSA code forms the basis for most security products now in use on the Internet for financial and other private communications.
RSA gained widespread attention when it was published in a detailed paper in Communications of the ACM in February 1978. Drs. Rivest, Shamir and Adleman shared the 1996 ACM Paris Kanallakis Award for Theory and Practice, together with Professors Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman and Ralph Merkle, who pioneered the concept of public-key cryptography. The Kanellakis Award honors specific theoretical accomplishments that have had a significant and demonstrable effect on the practice of computing. The Turing Award honors contributions of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field, and is ACM's most prestigious technical award.

Dr. Robert E. Kahn, chairman, president and CEO of CNRI (Corporation for National Research Initiatives), headed the 2002 Turing Award committee. He said the committee rapidly converged on the choice of Drs. Rivest, Shamir and Adleman to be this year's honorees. "We had a large number of highly qualified candidates, but what impressed us was the combination of their theoretical contribution and its widespread practical application. They clearly deserved this recognition for their well-known seminal work in advancing the theory and application of public key cryptography," he said.
Leonard M. Adleman earned a BS in Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science, also at Berkeley. He has recently extended his professional interests to the biotechnology field. While reading a text on DNA a few years ago, he was struck by a resemblance between the way a protein, known as polymerase, produces complementary strands of DNA, and the principle behind the Turing machine, a computational model proposed in the 1930's by Alan M. Turing, for whom ACM's Turing Award is named. Like polymerase, which runs along a strand of DNA reading chemical information, the Turing machine runs along a tape reading digital information. Dr. Adleman concluded that DNA formation operates like a computer, and in a seminal paper published Nov. 11, 1994 in Science, demonstrated that DNA could actually be used as a computing medium to solve a simple problem. On March 14, 2002, another publication in Science announced use of DNA to solve a much more difficult one.
Dr. Adleman is also associated with the creation of one of the first computer viruses, demonstrated November 11, 1983 by Adleman's student, Frederick B. Cohen, as a class assignment.
Intel’s support has enabled ACM to increase the cash award this year from $25,000 to $100,000. It also brings greater recognition to the scientists and engineers whose innovations have driven the information technology industry forward, and sets a high standard for the next generation of science and technology pioneers who will deliver the ideas and inventions that fuel the global economy.
ACM will present the A.M. Turing Award at the annual ACM Awards Banquet on June 7, 2003, at the Town and Country Conference Center in San Diego, CA, in conjunction with the Federated Computing Research Conference. Since its inception in 1966, ACM’s Turing Award has honored the computer scientists and engineers who created the systems and underlying theoretical foundations that have propelled the information technology industry. For more information, see acm.org/awards.
Dr. Adleman's Co-Winners
Dr. Ronald L. Rivest is the Viterbi Professor of Computer Science in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He is a founder of MIT's Cryptography and Information Security Group. He received a BA in Mathematics from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University.
Dr. Adi Shamir is the Borman Professor in the Applied Math Department of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He received a BS in Mathematics from Tel-Aviv University and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Weizmann Institute.
About ACM
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is a major force in advancing the skills of information technology professionals and students. ACM serves its global membership of 75,000 by delivering cutting edge technical information and transferring ideas from theory to practice. ACM hosts the computing industry’s leading Digital Library and Portal to Computing Literature. With its journals and magazines, special interest groups, conferences, workshops, electronic forums, Career Resource Centre and Professional Development Centre, ACM is a primary resource to the information technology field. For more information, see www.acm.org.
Contact: Eric Mankin
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