14 August 2012 by Jason Goodyer
There is, however, another thing to be added to this list: it was none other than Sir Michael Philip Jagger who supplied the original Enigma code machine currently on display in the Science Museum's exhibition celebrating the life of pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing.
As anyone even remotely interested in computers or military history will no doubt know, this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Turing, a man who helped break the German Enigma code machine in WW2 and is frequently referred to as the father of computer science for his work at the National Physical Laboratory and Manchester University.
Perhaps the star of the exhibition is the Pilot ACE computer - a mass of thermionic valves and snaking wires which ran its first program on 10 May 1950 clocking in at a speed of 1MHz. Other items on display include a section of Comet Jet fuselage wreckage which was analysed with the aid of Pilot ACE, a model of the structure of vitamin B12, which was determined by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dorothy Hodgkin with the help of Pilot ACE, and of course the aforementioned Enigma machine.
Almost as well-known as Turing's many achievements is the despicable way in which he was treated by the British government. In 1952, despite having been openly homosexual for a large part of his adult life, he was convicted of gross indecency and given a grave ultimatum - imprisonment or chemical castration via the daily administration of female hormones. He chose the latter but two years later he was found dead in his bed, a half-eaten apple on his bedside table and a brain so steeped in cyanide the coroner remarked that it smelled strongly of almonds.
In a tiny, quiet room ensconced in the corner of the exhibition is a copy of the coroner's report along with a bottle of hormones similar to that which Turing was forced to take as part of his 'treatment'. The whole debacle was of course desperately sad and it's difficult to look upon these two charged items without feeling a tinge of sorrow, rage or, most likely, both. As for the remainder of the exhibition, it may be slightly modest in size and somewhat lacking in detail but, to paraphrase Sir Mick, I know it's only cryptography n' computer science but I liked it.
Codebreaker - Alan Turing's Life and Legacy runs at the Science Museum until 31 July 2013. Admission is free.
Visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk for further information.
Edited: 15 August 2012 at 12:17 PM by Jason Goodyer
Posted By: Jason Goodyer @ 14 August 2012 04:23 PM General
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