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5 November 1999

Quantum Computing Expert Peter Shor Receives Carnegie Mellon's 1998 Dickson Prize in Science

Computer scientist and mathematician Peter Shor, a principal research scientist at AT&T Labs (Florham, N.J.), is the recipient of Carnegie Mellon University=B9s 1998 Dickson Prize in Science for his pioneering research in the theory of quantum computing. The Dickson Prize is funded through a trust left to the university by Pittsburgh physician Dr. Joseph Z. Dickson and his wife Agnes Fisher Dickson to honor people who make outstanding contributions to the field of science in the United States. The 1998 prize includes a $40,000 award.

Shor is the 25th recipient of this prize. He will give a lecture titled "Quantum Computing" at 4:30 p.m., Monday, November 8, in the auditorium of Carnegie Mellon's Mellon Institute Building. The lecture and reception which follows are open to the public.

A quantum computer (which is hypothetical today) operates on a different system of logic than a conventional computer, using the special properties of atoms and light rather than electronics to carry out a calculation. It has the potential to far surpass the speed of digital computers and solve problems that are intractable even for today's fastest parallel machines. However, the possibilities of such a device were not appreciated until 1994, when Shor discovered an algorithm for factoring large integers or whole numbers into prime numbers on a quantum computer. His breakthrough unleashed a flurry of research among physicists and computer scientists that is helping to bring quantum computers out of the realm of theory and into the prototype stage.

The difficulty of factoring long numbers using conventional computers is the basis of some widely used methods for encrypting information on the Internet. For this reason a quantum computer could, at least potentially, compromise the security of electronic cash and on-line signatures. However, a device which could actually carry out Shor's algorithm for large numbers is still many years away, because numerous technical difficulties have to be overcome. So, while security organizations are watching developments in the field, there is not yet any serious concern.

Shor has received several awards and honors for his work, including the Nevanlinna Prize, awarded at the 1998 International Congress of Mathematicians, and the 1998 International Quantum Communication Award. He is an AT&T fellow and a recipient of the 1999 Godel Prize. Most recently, he was honored with the 1999 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Shor, 40, was born in New York City. He grew up in Washington, D.C. and in the San Francisco Bay area. He received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1981 and a doctor's degree in applied mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1985. He joined AT&T Labs (then AT&T Bell Laboratories) in 1986 after a postdoctoral fellowship at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California. For several years, he worked mainly on algorithms for conventional computers while also researching probability and combinatorics. In 1994, he says, after thinking about the problem on and off for nearly a year, he made his discovery. Since then, he has spent most of his research time investigating quantum computing and quantum information theory.

Shor and his wife Jennifer have a two-year-old daughter, Valerie.


Anne Watzman, Office of Public Relations,
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University,

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