If You Care About Your Online Data and Want Your Debit Card to Be Secure, Read About This Breakthrough

A sophisticated database linking the vast theoretical world of math to the practical world of encryption and security is being formally unleashed online on Wednesday, May 10.

"You unknowingly deal with these complex computations dozens of times each day," said Dr. Anna Haensch, assistant professor of mathematics at Duquesne University and one of 70-plus participants from 12 countries who launched the gigantic L-functions and Modular Forms Database (LMFDB). "Nearly all of the cryptography that protects your private information online, in credit and debit transactions as well as on Facebook and Google, is based on a few really hard problems in the field of number theory."

This project is essentially the first periodic table of elements for math. The atlas-like collection of previously uncharted computations, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the United Kingdom Engineering and Physical Research Council, assembles more than a billion mathematical items in a single place and a unified format. Haensch alone spent the last year-and-a-half producing quaternary codes that can be used in electronic data transmission for this searchable database.

"Like the public DNA database, LMFDB lets us peek, for the first time, into the relationships of different mathematical items and trace their common ancestry. Another way to think about this is a huge Facebook for mathematical items. We can see what forms are friendly with other items-and can investigate these possibilities."

By understanding these complicated structures, mathematicians will be able to build sophisticated cryptosystems that simultaneously transform and protect your data as it passes through the cloud, Haensch said.

"We are mapping the mathematics of the 21st century," said Brian Conrey, director of the American Institute of Mathematics and LMFDB member. "The LMFDB is both an educational resource and a research tool that will become indispensable for future exploration."

The LMFDB also means that the hundreds of years of computing time involved in compiling the database, along with thousands of hours of human effort, don't need to be repeated again. Ever. Many of the calculations are so intricate that only a handful of experts can do them, and some computations are so big that it makes sense to do them only once. This leaves time and brain power to push the frontier of math further ahead.

To talk in plain English with Haensch, who has written about science and math as a National Public Radio Fellow, about the implications of this database for big data, research and secure online transactions, contact Duquesne Public Affairs, 412.396.6050.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University's academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim. 

It's time for bigger goals
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