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Pi Mu Epsilon guest speaker discusses cryptography

Elon's chapter of the national mathematics honor society hosted Jenny Fuselier of High Point University for a guest lecture on the mathematics behind the art of data encryption.

Elon's chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honor society, hosted Jenny Fuselier on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, for a guest lecture on the mathematics behind the art of data encryption.

Fuselier, an associate professor of mathematics at High Point University, gave her talk "From passing notes to making and breaking codes" to a crowd of 25 Elon students and faculty.  Fuselier began by recounting tales from her childhood about when she and her friends wanted to communicate in secret. They would pass notes that had been encrypted in some fashion, such as changing each occurrence of the letter "A" with "J", each occurrence of "B" with "K", and so on.  

Fuselier admitted that while this encryption scheme was quite easy to break, there are underlying mathematical forces at work behind the scenes. Such mathematics can be exploited to create more secure encryption schemes.

Fuselier ended her talk with one such example, the so-called RSA public key encryption scheme, named after Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman, who first publicly described the algorithm in 1978.

Fuselier's talk was part of the Pi Mu Epsilon Colloquium Series that began at Elon in the fall of 2013. The series now hosts about one speaker each month during the academic year and attracts an audience of 25 to 30 attendees, though often this number is much higher. The speakers come from a variety of institutions and talk about many different areas of mathematics and statistics. In spring 2017, Pi Mu Epsilon hosted the following speakers.

  • March 2, 2017, Cassie Williams  of James Madison University, "How elliptic curves can keep secrets and prove theorems," (27 attendees).
  • April 19, 2017, Jessical Roycroft '13 of RTI International, "The Day to Day of an Early Career Statistician in the Division for Statistical and Data Sciences at RTI," (25 attendees).
  • April 6, 2017, Harold Reiter of UNC-Charlotte, "The Chameleon Cube Problem and Other Problems with Cubes," (45 attendees). The audience size was larger thanks in part to the efforts of Associate Professor of Mathematics Jim Beuerle.
  • May 3, 2017, Talitha Washington of Howard University, "How (Mathematical) Modeling Can Explain Our World," (36 attendees).

Pi Mu Epsilon faculty advisor A.L. Hook Associate Professor Chad Awtrey has secured grant support from the Mathematical Association of America and the national office of Pi Mu Epsilon.  This will allow the Colloquium Series to host additional talks this coming academic year.  Here are the details:

  • Oct. 9, 2017, 3:30 p.m., Duke 302 - Rich Neidinger of Davidson College
  • Oct. 18, 2017, 4 p.m. Duke 302 - Caroline Turnage-Butterbaugh of Duke University
  • Dec. 7, 2017, 5 p.m., Duke 302 - Karen Yokley of Elon University
  • Feb. 28, 2018, 4 p.m., TBD - Allison Henrich of Seattle University
  • March 8, 2018, 8:30 a.m., TBD - Lola Thompson of Oberlin College
  • March 28, 2018, 4 p.m., TBD - Nicholas Scoville of Ursinus College
  • April 18, 2018, 4 p.m., TBD - Anil Venkatesh of Ferris State University
  • May 2, 2018, 4 p.m., TBD - Dewey Taylor of Virginia Commonwealth University

All in the Elon community are invited to attend these exciting events.

Chad Awtrey,
9/21/2017 7:50 AM