E-Net News

Pi Mu Epsilon hosts mathematician from the National Security Agency

The national math honor society hosted a special guest lecture from National Security Agency mathematician Dr. Todd Mateer on Wednesday, November 19, 2014.

Mateer was the third and final speaker hosted by Pi Mu Epsilon (PME) for the fall 2014 semester.  His talk "The Secret Lives of Mathematicians" detailed several aspects related to cryptography as well as career and internship opportunities at the NSA.

According to Mateer, the NSA began in 1952 when President Truman created the agency to serve as the central unit in charge of the government's cryptologic efforts.  Today, there are many opportunities for careers and summer internships at the NSA.  Mateer even provided a list of the Top 10 Reasons to Work for the NSA.  Included on the list were items related to benefits, flexibility of work schedule, support of further education, and the opportunity to work on challenging and rewarding problems.

Mateer described the NSA's current efforts as comprising two separate but related tasks: (1) to protect classified and sensitive information that is stored on or sent by government equipment; and (2) to

Dr. Todd Mateer (National Security Agency)
Alex Zaterka' 17 (left) and Sydney Lawton' 17 (right).
organize, collect, process, and analyze intelligence sent by foreign sources.

Interested parties can find out more information on the NSA and its careers at NSA and CAREERS, respectively.

As advertised, two Elon students won door prizes for attending the guest lecture.  These students were

Alex Zaterka' 17 and Sydney Lawton' 17.

The event concluded with PME's faculty adviser, assistant professor of mathematics Chad Awtrey, promoting several upcoming events.  

In spring 2015, PME will host three more speakers: Dr. Michael Dorff (Brigham Young University) on March 4, Dr. Timothy Goldberg (Lenoir-Rhyne University) on April 1, and Dr. Karin Saoub (Roanoke College) on May 6.  

For students interested in cryptography, they might consider enrolling in Awtrey's upcoming Winter Term course "Mathematics of Secrets".  Students will have the opportunity to learn the applications and underlying theory associated to several encryption methods, including the well-known RSA public-key encryption algorithm.  First described to the general public in 1977 by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman (MIT), the RSA algorithm exploits our current inability to quickly factor large numbers into a product of prime numbers.  

While RSA is a standard topic in just about every cryptography course across the country, the Mathematics of Secrets course at Elon is pedagogically different in delivery and intentionally Elon in design.  Like all Elon courses, the focus of the course is on engagement.  The environment is active learning through inquiry, and there is an emphasis on exercising critical thinking through writing.  

Chad Awtrey,
11/24/2014 10:50 AM