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While math majors will certainly be captivated by the non-traditional Mathematics
course, King’s Cryptology class is an increasingly popular option for non-math majors
needing to fulfill their math requirements.
“Cryptology is the science of secret writing such as devising codes and cracking codes,”
said Dr. Andrew Simoson, professor of Mathematics for King. “The math used in cryptology
is called number theory. Many of the successful codes used in security systems are
based upon readily understandable mathematical concepts such as clock arithmetic and
prime integers. As such, our King College cryptology course is an ideal core course
option for our students. We use real mathematics in a fun way to make and break secret
messages, all the while learning about basic security ideas used throughout communication
networks - from checking out at the grocery store to protecting our accounts in business
A freshman level course with no course pre-requirements, Cryptology was designed to
be a non-traditional mathematics course. Many students choosing to take the course
may not have an extensive math background or they might plan to major in mathematics.
“All students, whatever their discipline, will learn and have fun in the process,”
said Dr. Bill Linderman, professor of Mathematics for King. “Cryptology is an accessible
course. Many math courses are preparing students for the next level of math. For
students who only plan to take one or two math courses, Cryptology is a perfect option.
Students see a variety of techniques along with practical applications; it is enjoyable
and they are learning something new.
“The course initially came by way of a King College alumnus, Tom Barr, who wrote the
textbook we use, ‘Invitation to Cryptology.’” said Linderman.
“About twenty years ago, Tom turned his lecture notes for an undergraduate cryptology
course into a popular textbook published by Prentice Hall,” said Simoson. “We have
proudly used his text for approximately ten years at King College. One semester,
Tom took a sabbatical and taught the cryptology course at King. Students loved him
and his mathematics.”
Tom Barr graduated from King College in 1979 with a double major in Mathematics and
Physics, and then went on to earn his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Vanderbilt University.
For many years, he served as professor and chair of Mathematics and Computer Science
Department for Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. Currently, he is the managing partner
for Entreventures Consulting LLC, which provides consulting services on strategy and
operations for entrepreneurial ventures based in bioscience, engineering, information
technology, and other scientific areas.
“While performing research for the textbook, it was wonderful to immerse myself in
mathematical literature and with practitioners of the art of Cryptology,” said Dr.
Tom Barr. “Since first published, the textbook has been utilized at many colleges
and universities not only across the United States but also around the world.
“It is my belief that everyone has mathematical abilities,” continued Barr. “It is
unfortunate, particularly in the United States, that many people are conditioned early
in life that math is not for everyone. Cryptology opens up an artful and creative
side of mathematics to which many can relate, whether or not they believe they may
be a math person.”
The art and science of encryption has been used throughout history. The course begins
with a historical overview of encryption techniques that have been used throughout
history. Encryption techniques have also been used during war time throughout the
ages. Some of the first mentions of the use of encryption are in the Bible. New
techniques for encryption are always being developed to prevent the transfer of classified
information from getting into the wrong hands.
“Typically, many may not initially think of a math course as being fun, but the course
is quite engaging and the students who have taken the course love it,” said Linderman.
“Math is also not typically associated with creativity. However, Cryptology is basically
all pattern recognition where one is trying to disguise something. There are many
mathematical techniques that can be utilized during encryption. You do need creativity
to do something in a clever way.”
After students learn techniques of encryption, they are given chance to decode messages
and put into practice the techniques they have learned. Students also have opportunities
to encode messages themselves.
Students from a variety of majors other than mathematics have taken the course; particularly
both history and political science majors have shown interest, as well as students
minoring in Security and Intelligence Studies. They are able to relate encryption
to their own fields of study in areas such as war-time encryption methods. Other
fields that easily relate to Cryptology include business and technology and of course
more advanced levels of mathematics.
“Students, who are studying mathematics and are interested in careers in the federal
government such as the National Security Agency, would definitely benefit from taking
a course in encryption methods,” said Linderman. “There is a high demand for mathematicians
within federal agencies.
“I have had great success with students who have taken the course, they really seem
to enjoy it, and it is a fun course,” said Linderman. “If students are only going
to take one math course at King, this is definitely one to consider.”
Tom Barr gives this advice to students who are considering embarking on the mathematical
exploration of Cryptology, “Enjoy this experience; enjoy what you will be doing in
this course. This is an opportunity to embrace; take the risk. You will be amazed
at the rewards.”