Irelands BT Young Scientist
Irelands BT Young Scientist of the Year 2007 Abdusalam Abubakar is known as Abdul to his friends. The CBS student speaks perfect English, as his family moved to from Somalia to English speaking Kenya in 1994. At school in Synge St. Dublin 8 he says he is not treated differently, even though he has been interviewed by Dustin the Turkey and appeared on Ireland AM. One month after the event things are 'back to normal'.
A typical 16 year old, Abdul enjoys football, running and listening to the radio, but he becomes most animated when talking about the project for which he won the prize. Entitled 'An Extension of Wiener's Attack on RSA', entered in the Chemical, Physical and Mathematical Sciences category, Abdul's work is not easily understandable to the layperson, yet it affects anyone who uses credit cards on the internet, and much more.
RSA is an algorithm for encryption. An algorithm could be described as a recipe, albeit a complex one. Encryption means changing the letters of a message into a string of numbers, so they can be sent from one party to another confidentially. The letters RSA come from the initials of the original inventors.
Abdul's work builds upon that of Weiner, a mathematician who developed a method of breaking the codes created through RSA. According to the Young Scientist judges, Abdul 'mastered enormously complex mathematics....and increased the security of keys by improving the rigour of the encryption process'. The young scientist himself describes the area he studies as 'codebreakers v's codemakers'. He is also a history buff, and believes that 'the codes determine the wars'. This claim is not inaccurate, if you look at the story behind the Enigma machine and the lengths the Allied side went to to break the Nazi codes during World War Two. Alan Turing and other codebreakers were successful in deciphering the codes created by the machine, due to a mixture of luck and perseverance. This enabled the Allies to understand messages which the Nazi's assumed were secure.
A leading RSA company is looking at Abdul's work. He hopes this will make clear the 'whole potential of my method'. He has not yet been offered any work. Seeming wise beyond his years, he says 'I really don't know where my destiny lies'.
He has lived in Ireland with his family for 20 months now, and enjoys it, except for the weather. Such is the difference in climate between Kenya and Ireland that he now suffers from chilblains, which affects his hands. Despite this, he has adjusted well to his new home, even if he thinks it odd to have animals as pets in our homes. He enjoys the opportunities here, such as the competition and the different style of education. He compares the Kenyan to the Irish system of the past, when they used to 'whack the students'. In Ireland there is less coercion of the students, and better facilities.
It is difficult to imagine a student like Abdul requiring coercion. He is currently learning the computer language C++ which will enable him to further develop his work. Hopefully he will remain as cool and collected when representing Ireland in Valencia later this year in the European Young Scientist competition.