W. T. Tutte

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William Thomas Tutte, OC, FRS, (May 14, 1917 – May 2, 2002) was a British, later Canadian, codebreaker and mathematician. During World War II he broke a major German code system, which had a significant impact on the Allied invasion of Europe. He also had a number of significant mathematical accomplishments, including foundation work in the fields of combinatorics and graph theory.


Early life and education

Tutte was born in Newmarket in Suffolk, the son of a gardener. At age 18 he studied chemistry at Trinity College, Cambridge University. As a student he (along with three of his friends) became the first to solve the problem of squaring the square. Together the four created the pseudonym Blanche Descartes, under which Tutte published occasionally for years.

World War II

On the outbreak of World War II, his tutor suggested he join the Government Code and Cypher School, which he did in May 1941. Tutte worked at Bletchley Park as a codebreaker, and deduced the structure of the German Lorenz SZ 40/42 encryption machine (codenamed Tunny), intended for high-level German Army communications, using only a number of intercepted encrypted messages, an achievement described as "one of the greatest intellectual feats of World War II" . Using his breakthrough, the British constructed an entire organization (including the famed Colossus computer) to read the messages sent in this system.

Doctorate and career

Tutte completed a doctorate in mathematics from Cambridge in 1948 under the supervision of Shaun Wylie, who had also worked at Bletchley Park on Tunny. The same year, invited by Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter, he accepted a position at the University of Toronto. In 1962, he moved to the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario where he stayed for the rest of his academic career. He officially retired in 1985 but remained active as an emeritus professor. Tutte was instrumental in helping to found the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization at the University of Waterloo.

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