Bletchley Park Super-Visit 4th November 2017 

Alan Turing’s office.  Yes, Alan’s office.  I got to walk into and around Alan’s office in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park.  As Craig Revel-Horwood would say “A-ma-zing!”

As soon as the “super-visit” to Bletchley Park was announced I began to make my travel plans.  The chance to be a maths, cryptography and history geek without my wife and kids holding me back was just too much of an opportunity to be missed!!  After an early wake-up call and a very long drive from Devon I arrived at Bletchley Park with tingles of excitement.  Having read about the history of Bletchley Park and watched “The Imitation Game” more times than is probably healthy actually being on the site was almost too much.  Finding Sophie, Lucy and Vanessa from the scholarship team was easy – they were the ones holding an inflatable Nemo.  So much for the secrecy this place was once shrouded in eh?

Tom Brigg’s gave another excellent session this time on Vernam (Digital bit-wise XOR) ciphers.  This discussion was about the Lorenz machine that was being used by the German Army High Command for communication at the highest level, between Hitler and his generals.  We explored the maths of how this machine worked and how much more secure than the Enigma machines it was.  We briefly covered the amazing work by Bill Tutte and the team who managed to reverse engineer the structure of the machine from a resent message using the same key stream in 1941.  There was a lot more about this in the museum for afterwards.

Tom also gave us a quick overview of the maths behind the RSA encryption method at the heart of today’s internet security.  To think that the safety of all our online banking, online shopping, social media etc. is ‘simply’ based on the difficulty in factoring very large numbers!  What will quantum computing do to our online security?

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the amazing site, exploring the museum, soaking up the history and secrecy of the place all whilst talking to other scholars about their training and teaching experiences.  A very educational and enjoyable day.  There is certainly a lot that can be taken from the exhibits to bring into the classroom to engage and challenge pupils in a fun and entertaining way.

After another long drive and once home again, you’ve guessed it… another showing of “The Imitation Game” only this time with me constantly interrupting with my newly discovered maths and historical facts!

By Andrew Bussell