Professor Ronald L. Rivest and two former MIT research colleagues have been awarded the $100,000 A.W. Turing Award for their contributions to public-key technology.
The Turing award, presented by the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM), is considered "the Nobel Prize" of computing.
At the invitation of Professor Victor Zue, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science, about 30 of Rivest's colleagues and friends paid a surprise visit on Wednesday, April 23 to the first session of his 6.045 class (Automata, Computability and Complexity) to be held since the award was announced.
Wearing party hats and shrieking, they stormed into Room 37-212 and peppered Rivest with rice. They carried balloons, flowers and a banner and served brownies and mints. A boisterous Professor Silvio Micali led the charge.
The 27 students were flabbergasted. Rivest, normally unflappable, was speechless--for an instant.
"I thought the fire alarm had gone off," he said. "After it was clear that it was a party and not a fire, I think I said something like, 'This looks like more fun than polynomial-time reductions! The rest of class is canceled.'"
Be Blackburn, Rivest's administrative assistant for 17 years, said, "We still found rice in Ron's hair an hour later."
Rivest's co-winners are Adi Shamir, a professor in the applied mathematics department at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel; and Leonard M. Adleman, a professor of computer science and molecular biology at the University of Southern California. Rivest is the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.
While researchers at MIT in 1977, the trio developed the RSA algorithm, the world's most widely used encryption method. By allowing for secure communication over distances, it has been especially significant for the Internet and the banking and credit-card industries.
The award, presented annually since 1966, will be bestowed on the trio at ACM's annual banquet in San Diego on June 7.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 30, 2003.