Year 8 unlock the secrets of codes and ciphers
Maths lessons took a cryptic twist at Loughborough Grammar School recently when Dr James Grime, mathematician, lecturer and co-creator of the popular YouTube channel Numberphile, visited to host a Cryptography Day for boys in Year 8.
Revealing the history of codes, from those in the ancient world to those used now for secure internet communications, Dr Grime focused on the German Enigma code of the Second World War, explaining the operation of the Enigma machine and the flaws that allowed British code-breakers such as Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman to design machines, forerunners of modern electronic computers, which sped up the breaking of the code. He explained how breaking Enigma contributed to the Allies winning the Battle of the Atlantic.
Pupils also watched a demonstration of a 79-year-old Enigma cipher machine which was discovered in a field in France at the end of the war and is now owned by renowned author and TV producer, Simon Singh MBE. Dr Grime travels around the world with it as part of the Enigma Project, a Millennium Mathematics Project from the University of Cambridge, with the aim of bringing maths to life through fascinating history, codes and code-breaking.
The boys then had the opportunity become code-breakers as they took part in a hands-on workshop, attempting to break a number of codes from the simple pigpen cipher to the more challenging Playfair cipher.
The important message Dr Grime imparted to his young audience was that what they had been doing in the workshops was maths, even if it felt very different from their usual classes. By explaining how maths is involved in code-breaking, he opened their minds to another application of the subject, and to a potential future career!