On Capitol Hill, Brown’s vice president for research urges more study on quantum technology

Jill Pipher, a mathematics professor, cryptography expert and president of the American Mathematical Society, said quantum technology brings both great scientific potential and threats to security and privacy.

WASHINGTON, D.C. [Brown University] — Briefing members of Congress and other federal staffers in Washington on Thursday, Dec. 5, Brown University’s vice president for research said that new quantum computers under development could drive major scientific advances, but could also pose significant dangers to national security and data privacy.

Jill Pipher, a longtime professor of mathematics at Brown, said that with support from academic/government partnerships, additional research is urgently needed in the quantum field.

The event on Capitol Hill featured Pipher’s research on mathematics, cryptography and challenges to cybersecurity. She traced the history of cryptography from the time of Julius Caesar to the present, focusing on the explosion of new technologies and the ‘cryptowars’ from the 1970s to now.

She said quantum technology, focused on developing computers based on the principles of quantum mechanics and involving a vast increase in the speed of computer operations, reached new experimental milestones in 2019, including an announcement in Nature of the achievement of ‘quantum supremacy’ by a Google computer. 

“We must develop new cryptographic solutions that will be able to resist quantum computers,” Pipher said, “We need more mathematical research on quantum algorithms, and on post-quantum cryptography, in order to realize the potential of quantum computing and also to protect against the perils of quantum computing.”

Pipher described how she and two Brown mathematics colleagues, Jeffrey Hoffstein and Joseph Silverman, developed in the mid-1990s the NTRUEncypt public key cryptosystem, which spawned further research on lattice-based cryptography and has emerged as one of the best approaches for post-quantum cryptography.

Pipher’s briefing was organized by the 30,000-member American Mathematical Society, of which she is the current president, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. The audience of approximately 100 included both U.S. senators representing Rhode Island and one of the state’s representatives, as well as several dozen members of other Congressional staffs. Staff from government agencies — including from the National Science Foundation, which provides most federal funding for U.S. mathematics research — also attended.

“ We must develop new cryptographic solutions that will be able to resist quantum computers. ”

Jill Pipher Vice President for Research and Professor of Mathematics

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed introduced Pipher as "an extraordinary asset for Brown University and the state of Rhode Island." Reed said that quantum computing needs to be aggressively developed "without jeopardizing our security," adding that “we really need a Manhattan Project for the quantum computer issue.”

Pipher thanked Reed for being a visionary supporter of research and a champion of science.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse also spoke at the event, held in the Russell Senate Office Building, praising Brown’s NSF-funded Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, which Pipher founded.

"There aren't many of these [institutes]," Whitehouse said. "We’re glad to have one of those in Rhode Island."

Adding support for increased research efforts were U.S. Rep. James Langevin of Rhode Island and U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney of California, who is the only member of Congress with a Ph.D. in mathematics.