William T. Tutte

Professor William “Bill” Tutte

English Canadian codebreaker and mathematician 

Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo

May 14, 1917 – May 2, 2002

A world-renowned codebreaker and mathematician, William “Bill” Tutte left an indelible mark on Waterloo’s mathematical community. Twenty years after his death, he still has a profound impact on students studying combinatorics at the University of Waterloo.

Born in 1917 in Newmarket, England, Tutte came from a modest background but would go on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was an active member of the Trinity Mathematical Society. “For him to make that rise is the stuff of storybooks,” said Dan Younger, Retired Professor Emeritus, Department of Combinatorics and Optimization, University of Waterloo, who was a Faculty colleague of Tutte.

Before Tutte made his way to Canada and helped shape the University of Waterloo into the institution it is today, he accepted an invitation to join a team of codebreakers working to decipher German codes in the Second World War. At Bletchley Park in 1941, Tutte was tasked with using samples of messages to uncover the structure of the machine generating German ciphers named “Fish”. Tutte successfully determined that structure without ever seeing the machine. Tutte then focused on developing an algorithm to decipher Fish codes, an algorithm that necessitated the creation of COLOSSUS, the world’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer, which was built in 1943. COLOSSUS played an essential role in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Tutte’s codebreaking work was used to decipher Fish codes until the end of the war. It is believed that breaking those codes meant the war ended two years earlier, saving countless lives.

Tutte moved to Canada in 1948 and spent 14 years at the University of Toronto. He joined the University of Waterloo in 1962, just five years after the institution first opened its doors. He was part of a group who went on to found the Faculty of Mathematics in 1967 and was a founding member of the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization. 

Tutte played an integral role in building the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics. He helped establish the reputation of the school and attracted combinatorialists from around the world.

“He came when it wasn’t a fully developed university and it became a primary place for scholars in mathematics to come,” Younger said.

Throughout his time at the University of Waterloo, Tutte stayed quiet on his role as a codebreaker during World War II, as he was bound under the Official Secrets Act of Britain. Younger, who first met Tutte at a conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1963, said Tutte didn’t share much of his experience at Bletchley Park.

“He never did talk about what he did in the war,” Younger said. 

Younger joined the Faculty of Mathematics in its inaugural year and was promoted to Professor in 1975. He became good friends with Tutte outside of work, often on weekends hiking on trails in and around Waterloo Region. “It was just a nice relationship in which we really didn’t have to talk unless we had something to say,” Younger said. 

Tutte retired in 1985, but stayed on with the Faculty as Professor Emeritus. He acted as Editor in Chief of the Journal of Combinatorial Theory until he retired. Tutte died on May 2, 2002 at the age of 84. 

The University of Waterloo awards the William Tutte Centenary Undergraduate Scholarship every year, the highest scholarship given to a student interested in combinatorics. The scholarship, which is worth $1,500, is funded by donations from people inspired by Tutte’s work. The scholarship isn’t just a financial gift, though. It also comes with an homage to Tutte’s childhood in England.

“If one gets the scholarship, one gets a bicycle,” Younger said. The bicycle represents Tutte’s journey as a youngster to a high school in the town of Cambridge. He bicycled 18 miles to and from school every day starting at the age of 11.

William Tutte Way was named in Tutte’s honour at the University of Waterloo in 2017. The road connects the three Faculty of Mathematics buildings at the university.

Tutte was one of the foremost scholars in combinatorics. In addition to numerous awards throughout his career and into his retirement, Tutte was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2001. The Canadian government founded the Tutte Institute for Mathematics and Computing (TIMC) in 2009.

“He certainly was the man,” Younger said.

Tutte’s academic legacy includes many students, including prominent scholars Dr. Ron Mullin, Dr. Scott Vanstone and Dr. Alfred Menezes.

Four generations of Mathematicians/Cryptographers. From left to right: Ron Mullin, Bill Tutte, Scott Vanstone, Alfred Menezes.

You can view some of Tutte’s accomplishments in the images below:

Profound Impact academic ancestry graph for Bill Tutte.

William “Bill” Tutte had a long, impactful career as a professor, codebreaker and mathematician. A Profound Impact career trajectory visualization details some of his most significant accomplishments.

Do you have an impact story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Ronald Cleveland Mullin

Ronald Cleveland Mullin

Dr. Ron Mullin

Distinguished Emeritus Professor, University of Waterloo 

Co-founder, Certicom 

A humble, dedicated professor and mathematician who is modest about his successes, Dr. Ron Mullin has made invaluable contributions to combinatorics, academia and cryptography. His career has spanned over 50 years with notable successes in both commercial and academic ventures. Along with Scott Vanstone and Gord Agnew, Ron Mullin co-founded Certicom, a leading cryptography company whose technology was licensed by the US National Security Agency (NSA), among many others, and later sold to Research In Motion (RIM), now known as  BlackBerry. Mullin was also Professor and Chair of Combinatorics and Optimization at the University of Waterloo and boasts one of the largest lineages in the Mathematics Genealogy project, with 20 PhD students and 180 descendants. 

“Teaching as a whole and getting good students and working with them, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Mullin. 

Even as a student, Mullin’s impact was profound. He was the first ever University of Waterloo graduate to receive an MA in mathematics in 1960. A bright and promising young mathematician and cryptology student, Mullin was recruited by the University of Waterloo to lecture while he completed his graduate studies. His skills were so impressive that the University’s head of mathematics used Mullin as bait to lure world class mathematician, who later was acknowledged as the World War II codebreaker and cryptography expert, William Tutte to the university with the intention of building out the department and recruiting top-tier talent. 

“It was quite an honour,” Mullin reflected, when asked about his role in attracting Tutte to the university. 

After completing his PhD under Tutte, Mullin went on to pursue a career as a professor at the University of Waterloo until 1996, rising the ranks from lecturer to distinguished professor emeritus and adjunct professor. Described by two of his former students as brilliant, encouraging and easy going, Mullin always left a lasting impression on those he taught, as well as his colleagues. 

“Ron taught my first computer science class,” said Alfred Menezes, one of Mullin’s academic grandchildren and professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization at the University of Waterloo. “To him, the little details didn’t matter. He thinks about the big stuff – the important stuff…he realized the value of ideas.” 

One of those ideas became the foundation for Mullin’s commercial venture – Certicom, a leading supplier of wireless security solutions. Mullin was heavily involved in the company’s patent program. Certicom’s signature product was Elliptic Curve Cryptography, which speeds up the encryption process, utilizing shorter encryption keys without loss of security. This technology played a crucial role in the advancement of smartphone and other mobile devices and accelerated the growth of a number of companies including RIM. 

“One good thing about it – it’s fast and secure for certain kinds of encryption processes. And these turned out to be the ones that are very helpful in smartphones,” said Hugh Williams, retired computer science professor and Mullin’s academic son. “So in a sense, Scott, Gord and Ron realized this was a coming thing and they were quite skillful in introducing this company.”

After retiring from the University of Waterloo as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus and stepping away from his commercial ventures, Mullin went on to enjoy a second career at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He established a Cryptography Group at the university, a position he held until his “second retirement”, at the age of 75. Mullin also became the first recipient of the Stanton Medal, which is awarded by the Institute for Combinatorics and its Applications to honour significant lifetime contributions promoting the discipline of combinatorics through advocacy, outreach, service, teaching and/or mentoring. In addition, Mullin was awarded a doctor rerum naturalium honoris causa (Honorary Doctorate Degree) from the University of Rostock in Germany. 

While Mullin’s professional accomplishments are impressive, his legacy cannot be fully understood without including his mathematics genealogy. A number of graduate students that studied under Mullin became very prominent in cryptography and computer science including: Hugh Williams, who was instrumental in establishing one of Canada’s leading research centres in cryptography and information security; Scott Vanstone, world-renowned cryptography and co-founder of Certicom; Douglas Wiedemann, who designed an algorithm for linear systems of equations before joining the NSA; Bimal Roy, head of R C Bose Centre for Cryptology and Security in India; and Evi Nemeth, engineer, author and teacher who played a prominent role in the development of the Unix computer operating system.  

“He has had many students and ultimately, for an academic, that’s your impact – your students. What they end up doing and how they add to what it was that you did,” said Williams.

You can view some of Dr. Mullins’ accomplishments in the images below:

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Canadian Contributions to a Cashless Society

Forthlane Fridays Webinar – Canadian Contributions to a Cashless Society – October 29, 2021

Profound Impact’s Sherry Shannon-Vanstone joined panelists Alfred Menezes of the University of Waterloo and John Loeprich of 3iQ Corp to discuss Canadian contributions to a cashless society from both the macro and micro level that consumers do not often appreciate the importance of, including the technical side, energy and environmental implications.

If you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here.

Watch the video pre-discussion for an introduction to blockchain and cryptocurrency technology by Alfred Menezes!

Here are the Key Takeaways from the webinar by Forthlane Partners.

The Cryptocurrency Landscape

  • Regulators in Canada are playing an important role in helping Canada become a leader in transitioning to a cashless society.
  • Since 3iQ Corp is the first company worldwide to receive regulatory approval for a prospectus product (the Bitcoin Fund) listed on a major stock exchange, it has made individuals a lot more comfortable. This has resulted in greater adoption in Canada.
  • There has been significant portfolio adoption in the U.S., despite cryptocurrency being unregulated.
  • Although cashless products are not a core-holding of any portfolios yet, we are seeing more comfort among a lot of institutional investors and hedge fund managers.
  • Canada’s research and education organizations have enabled the commercialization of science. As a result, Canada has been a major contributor of information to the cryptocurrency industry.
  • As a professor at Waterloo, Alfred Menezes has seen an increase in student interest in cryptography. As an example, a course Alfred teaches about cryptocurrency used to have enrollment of approximately 100 students but has now risen to over 275 students.
  • The US government and MIT have partnered around digital currency. In Canada, this partnership would most likely be seen between the government and University of Waterloo.
  • Waterloo has the largest research group in cryptography security. Waterloo has already launched the “Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute” with dozens of faculty members who are conducting research in this sector.

Cryptocurrency as the Reserve Currency of the World

  • The early developers of Bitcoin and Ethereum comprised of a few anarchists and many strong libertarians. Overall, the founders tend to be very idealistic people. However, this idealistic perspective does not always align with the perspective of banks and nations.
  • In principle, it would be wonderful if the world adopted one cryptocurrency, but in practice it is not realistic.
  • On September 7, 2021, El Salvador adopted Bitcoin as a legal tender and was the first country to do so. It is not clear why and whether it will be a success. It will be interesting to see what comes of this decision over the next few months and if Canada should follow.
  • Many countries are very against Bitcoin becoming the new world’s reserve currency. Since the U.S. dollar is the current world’s reserve currency, the U.S. does not want Bitcoin to replace it.

Cryptography

  • Cryptography helps address big problems, including democratization of access, cost of financial services, a hedge on government, and physical mobility (during WW2, Gold was heavy and immobile, so diamonds were viewed as the “more mobile” product).
  • Bitcoin and Ethereum have been wonderful experiments to explore what is envisioned, but there is a lot more to blockchain, with many applications outside of cryptocurrency.
  • To push cryptography forward, more commercialization opportunities and conversations are needed.
  • We need to continue to encourage research and start-ups, which encourage collaboration. The government is helping to support this as well as the private industry. Monetary investments are also important to support research.

Real World Applications of Cryptography

  • Finance companies are implementing security tools, prediction markets, and smart contracts which can all be implemented very quickly.
  • The Top 5 banks in Canada have not felt the need to innovate over the last several years. A simple example here is still needing to pay $40 for a wire transfer.
  • De-centralized finance can put pressure on the banks to innovate. For example, this could help reduce wire transfer costs and reduce overnight wait time for wire transfers to clear. Transactions could be instant.

De-Centralizing Cryptocurrency

  • In theory, de-centralization is nice, but in reality, it is quite hard to achieve.
  • Bitcoin was intended to be de-centralized, but decisions are ultimately made by the miners, so are quite centralized.

There are only a handful of miners in the world, and most of these miners were all in China, until a few months ago. Over the last few months, there has been a crack-down on miners in China.

Impact Stories: Scott Vanstone

The Impact Stories series highlights individuals in our global community who are making, or who have made, a profound impact on inspiring collaborative solutions to the challenges faced by our world today.

Ron Mullin, William Tutte, Scott Vanstone, Alfred Menezes

Scott Vanstone — Pioneer, Visionary and Mentor

When Scott Vanstone first learned about Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) in 1985, he recognized it had the power to change the world. Today, ECC is one of the most powerful types of cryptography securing most of the devices we use every day. Its success is due in large part to Scott’s vision, research and perseverance and to those he mentored and trained during his career as a researcher, professor and entrepreneur.

Scott’s journey from PhD student to world-renowned researcher and company co-founder can be traced back to Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret facility set up in World War II and staffed with young mathematicians to break Nazi codes.

When the Department of Mathematics was founded in 1960 at the newly-established University of Waterloo, its chairman, Ralph Stanton, had the foresight to recruit influential faculty members — including William Tutte, the founder of graph theory and Bletchley Park alum.  In addition to teaching and research, Waterloo offered Tutte the opportunity to mentor graduate students in the emerging field of cryptography.  Ron Mullin was one of those students.

Ron Mullin arrived in Waterloo in 1959 to finish his graduate work and became first-ever UW graduate, receiving an MA in mathematics in 1960.  

Scott Vanstone graduated with his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Waterloo in 1974, working under Ron Mullin’s supervision.  Scott established his career as an assistant professor of Mathematics in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization (C&O) and, during the early part of his career, concentrated on pure mathematics. However, he quickly became intrigued with cryptography and its potential for real-world applications. 

In 1985, he co-founded Certicom Corp with Professors Ron Mullin and Gord Agnew to commercialize a new mathematical method and chip architecture the team had discovered. 

In addition to his work as a researcher and entrepreneur, Scott was also known for his ability to collaborate with others and bring out the best in his students. He had a unique ability to identify talent immediately and worked with his students to help them achieve their Masters or PhDs and encouraged them to push themselves.

Although Scott passed away in 2014, he continues to have an impact on the future of cryptography. 

Alfred Menezes, now a professor in the C&O Department at UW, was one of those students. Scott visited Menezes’ Brampton high school to encourage him to attend the University of Waterloo. Menezes went on to receive his PhD in 1992 and his thesis was published as the first book on ECC. Today, Menezes is recognized as a leading expert in cryptography. 

Michele Mosca, also a professor in the Waterloo C&O Department, is researching the new generation of cryptography that will be needed with the advancement in quantum computing. As Mosca works on advancing quantum computing and building a stronger cyber immune system, he has looked to Scott’s early work in building Certicom’s contribution to ECC as a playbook. 

Spanning more than 80 years, from breaking Nazi codes to building quantum computers, Scott Vanstone’s distinguished academic heritage and ground-breaking legacy are testament to the profound impact of connections and collaborations.

Scott Vanstone’s Academic Ancestry (click images for larger)