INTRO: An Alien on Earth

Madeline S -

Hello and welcome to my very first Senior Project Blog! My name is Maddie, and I’m so excited to take you along with me as I study the evolution of cryptography these next ten weeks. 

My project is centered around encryption and how advances in quantum computing are changing the way our data is kept safe. Quantum computers, the heart of this revolution, harness a computing power much greater than that of classical computers such as the one I am using to write this blog. Classical computers use “bits” to store information by being in one of two states, denoted by the numbers one and zero. Instead of having bits, Quantum computers use “qubits” which can exist in multiple states at once, allowing the storage of much more extensive amounts of information. 

So, what does this have to do with encryption? Well, many forms of encryption are based on “trap-door” functions, meaning that they are easy to compute in one direction, but incredibly difficult to compute in the reverse direction. The time it takes a classical computer to “decode” data and perform the reverse computation is far too long to present a threat to data security. With a quantum computer, however, these computations can be done thousands of times faster, meaning that our encrypted data may not be so safe anymore. 

Alongside Dr. Lara Ismert, a professor of mathematics at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, I will be studying three types of encryption methods: RSA encryption, elliptic curve encryption, and the BB84 protocol. Besides analyzing the mathematics and efficacy of each of these methods, I hope to also share some insights into the strange world of quantum computing and the advancements that are occurring at this very moment. From frigid temperatures to alternate universes to unseen interactions, quantum computers are an alien phenomenon, but one with so many tangible consequences. 

My at home research set-up 🙂

Each online transaction made on Amazon, Google, or Uber Eats is protected by cryptography that is obsolete in the face of the rising stability of quantum computing. We all have personal stakes in this quantum revolution: to protect our privacy and sensitive information including credit card numbers, passwords, and medical history. Through my project, I plan to identify what makes certain encryption methods quantum-safe and what makes others vulnerable to the efficiency of quantum computing, while also learning some new math jargon and testing my artistic abilities (here’s to hoping that graphs are easier than stick figures) along the way. 

I hope that you will join me as I embark on this journey to learn more about the strange realm of quantum computing and what it means for the everyday world. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

*To learn more about my project, check out my Senior Project Proposal!

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    Your project is really impressive! Will you be working on-site at Embry Riddle, or will most of your research take place at home?
    This project idea is incredible, Maddie! Is encryption something you would like to keep studying after high school, or is it just a topic of interest for you!
    Maddie! This is such a STELLAR project. I have to say though, when I was reading this, I was a little intimidated by the information, but I know with you as my guide through the "Quantum World" I will soon be ready for the challenge! Also, I love your work area. It looks very cozy. Are you only looking at this research with Dr. Lara or are you working with other resources?
    Hi Taylor! I will be on-site at Embry Riddle once a week, but most of my research will be done at home.
    Hey Zoey! I am hoping to explore different fields of math after high school, but I definitely find cryptography to be super interesting. I guess I’ll have to see what sticks!
    Hi Gianna! One of my goals is definitely to make my project more approachable as the weeks go on. Alongside working with Dr. Ismert, I am also working on my research with Mr. Smith. Thanks for reading! :)

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