Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

NRE 8011/8012 and MP 6011/6012 Seminar

Nuclear & Radiological Engineering and Medical Physics Programs


The Wisdom of Foolishness: Taking on Nuclear Deterrence


Dr. Martin Hellman


Stanford University


Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 11:00:00 AM


MARC Building, Room Auditorium


Nolan Hertel


His talk explores the paradox that some of the most innovative human advances initially look foolish. Therefore, even though society sees efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons as a 'fool's errand', it may be a very wise endeavor.


Dr. Martin E. Hellman is Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. His effort to 'Defuse the Nuclear Threat,' (see NuclearRisk.org) includes applying quantitative risk analysis to a potential failure of nuclear deterrence. Dr. Hellman was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for co-inventing public key cryptography, a technology which secures literally trillions of dollars in financial transactions every day. His honors include election to the National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of the IEEE, Marconi International Fellow, the IEEE Hamming Medal, and being named one of only 23 Stanford Engineering Heroes thus far.

Martin E. Hellman was born in New York, NY, in 1945. He received his B.E. from New York University in 1966, and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1967 and 1969, all in Electrical Engineering. Prof. Hellman was a researcher at IBM's Watson Research Center from 1968-69 and an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT from 1969-71. He returned to Stanford in 1971, where he served on the regular faculty until becoming Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering in 1996. He has served as Associate Chair of the EE Department, Chairman of EE Graduate Admissions, and as Associate Dean of Graduate Studies for minority student affairs. He has authored over 70 technical papers, 10 US patents, and a number of corresponding foreign patents.

Prof. Hellman is best known for his invention, with Diffie and Merkle, of public key cryptography. In addition to many other uses, this technology forms the basis for secure transactions on the Internet, and currently protects literally trillions of dollars in financial transactions on a daily basis. He has also been a long-time contributor to the computer privacy debate, starting with the issue of DES's key size in 1975 and culminating with service (1994-96) on the National Research Council's Committee to Study National Cryptographic Policy.