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Cryptographer recognised with Wolfson award

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29 October 2008

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Prof Nigel Smart has received one of the Royal Society’s most prestigious awards, a Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award.

The awards are given by the Royal Society 'to individuals of proven outstanding ability to undertake independent, original research'. Only 25 awards are given each year and each award lasts for five years.

Nigel Smart, Professor of Cryptology, has made major contributions in the area of public key cryptography. In particular, working on systems based on mathematical objects called elliptic curves. Elliptic curve cryptography is now being deployed in a wide range of applications since it offers higher security for a lower cost than previous systems.

People with a PlayStation 3, or a Windows-based computer, who connect to a secure web site, or owners of the Blackberry mobile phone, probably use elliptic curve cryptography every day.

In the last few years Nigel has turned his attention to another form of cryptography based on cryptographic pairings. This new technology offers the prospect of new and interesting applications of cryptographic techniques, from user-friendly secure email through to a policy based framework for accessing sensitive data.

Nigel’s work fuses deep pure mathematics with applied areas of computer science. He works on the interface between theory and practice.

Professor Smart, speaking about his research, said: “There is little point in doing theoretical work, unless you know whether your theory can actually be implemented. On the other hand blindly just implementing something without understanding how your choices can affect the security properties of a system is also a recipe for disaster.”

Nigel joins Professor Nello Cristianini who is another Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award winner in the Department of Computer Science.

Jointly funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology, the Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Awards scheme aims to give universities additional support to attract key researchers, with great potential or outstanding achievement, to this country or to retain those who might seek to gain higher salaries elsewhere.