February 28, 2017
A Mathematics initiative held at Garden International School (GIS) gave youngsters the opportunity to get close to one of the most important pieces of wartime history, the Enigma machine.
The students learned about cryptography–the science and mathematics of codes and code-breaking in an interactive series of presentations, under the umbrella of the Enigma Project.
The Enigma machine that was brought to GIS was an army machine that was used by the German army in Word War II to send their secret messages. The machine belongs to Simon Singh, an author who writes science fictions.
A history on the Enigma machine
The Enigma machine is a piece of spook hardware invented by a German and used by Britain’s codebreakers as a way of deciphering German signals traffic during World War Two. It has been claimed that as a result of the information gained through this device, hostilities between Germany and the Allied forces were curtailed by two years.
Enigma allowed an operator to type in a message, then scramble it by using three to five notched wheels, or rotors, which displayed different letters of the alphabet. The receiver needed to know the exact settings of these rotors in order to reconstitute the coded text. Over the years the basic machine became more complicated as German code experts added plugs with electronic circuits.
Dr James Grime, who led the demonstration with students gave them each a code and they must solve the mathematical problem to find out what the code says. He said, “the students really enjoyed themselves and had a good time though they found it difficult, it was all part of the learning”.
Dr Grime, a former lecturer of Cambridge University came about working with the Enigma machine as part of a special project by the university. Dr Grime now works independently as a mathematician who travels the world to spread the story of the Enigma machine to school children and general audiences.
During the media interview Dr Grime said he wanted to break the stigma that students associate with mathematics. “Students think that with mathematics, you can only be a maths teacher or an accountant, but I’m here to show them that they can do much more”. He added in university, he discovered that maths is a very creative subject. “These students are not just doing calculation but are discovering new high-level maths and original ideas”. “All the technology that we’re surrounded with today is the results of these ideas”.
He also treated the general public to a talk shortly after the media interview on the history of the Enigma machine and demonstrated how the machine works.
German military texts enciphered on the Enigma machine were first broken by the Polish Cipher Bureau, beginning in December 1932. This success was a result of efforts by three Polish cryptologists, Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski, working for Polish military intelligence.