Len Adleman, RSA cryptography, DNA computing, Turing Award (2002)
Leonard Max Adleman (born December 31,
1945) is a theoretical computer scientist and professor of computer
science and molecular biology at the University of Southern
California. He is known for being a co-inventor of the RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman)
cryptosystem in 1977, and of DNA computing. RSA is in widespread use
in security applications, including https.
Born in California, Adleman grew up in San Francisco, and attended the
University of California, Berkeley, where he received his BA in
mathematics in 1968 and his Ph.D. in EECS in 1976.
In 1994, his paper Molecular Computation of Solutions To Combinatorial
Problems described the experimental use of DNA as a computational
system. In it, he solved a seven-node instance of the Hamiltonian
Graph problem, an NP-complete problem similar to the traveling
salesman problem. While the solution to a seven-node instance is
trivial, this paper is the first known instance of the successful use
of DNA to compute an algorithm. DNA computing has been shown to have
potential as a means to solve several other large-scale combinatorial
In 2002, he and his research group managed to solve a 'nontrivial'
problem using DNA computation. Specifically, they solved a 20-variable
3-SAT problem having more than 1 million potential solutions. They did
it in a manner not unlike the one Adleman used in his seminal 1994
paper. First, a mixture of DNA strands logically representative of the
problem's solution space was synthesized. This mixture was then
operated upon algorithmically using biochemical techniques to winnow
out the 'incorrect' strands, leaving behind only those strands that
'satisfied' the problem. Analysis of the nucleotide sequence of these
remaining strands revealed 'correct' solutions to the original
For his contribution to the invention of the RSA cryptosystem, Adleman
was a recipient along with Ron Rivest and Adi Shamir of the 2002 ACM
Turing Award, often called the Nobel Prize of Computer Science.
He is one of the original discoverers of the Adleman-Pomerance-Rumely
Fred Cohen, in his 1984 paper, Experiments with Computer Viruses has
credited Adleman with coining the term "virus".
Adleman was the mathematical consultant on the movie Sneakers.
He has three children Jennifer (b. 1980) Stephanie (b. 1984) and
Lindsey (b. 1987). Adleman is also an amateur boxer and has sparred
with James Toney.