Computer Science Trip to Bletchley Park

25 June 2021

Written by Anjali, Year 10

It was a Monday morning when the Year 10 Computer Science class accompanied by Mr Watts and Dr Stacey assembled in the dining hall, ready to depart for Bletchley Park, the home of the World War 2 codebreakers. After a fairly uneventful coach journey we arrived at our destination: The National Museum of Computing.

When we arrived we were met by our tour guide, who gave us a brief outline of the day before taking us to view the famous Bombe. The Bombe was a machine designed by Alan Turing and perfected by George Welchman; it was used by British cryptologists to help decipher German Enigma-machine encrypted secret messages during World War 2. We learnt about how the mechanisms worked and the history of the Bombe. Afterwards we were taken to view the Lorenz machine and the Colossus; the machines designed and created in Bletchley Park to decrypt the German’s Lorenz Cipher. We were astounded at how important and revolutionary these machines were in the world of computer science, as well as their vital roles in winning the war.

Our tour guide then explained to us about the different levels of codes, ranging from high level-programming languages to machine code. The room that we were in featured many old computers, with vintage BBC micros. We were then able to try out coding a simple program on these computers. This was an interesting insight into the relatively recent past, and how far our technology has come in just a couple of decades, as well as to how programming languages, like python, were developed.

Next we had a very interesting talk on how surprisingly important prime numbers are in cyber security. Essentially, we can take two prime numbers and multiply them to create a new, large number, however no computer yet is able to get the large number and calculate which two prime numbers make it up. This allows us to use a type of encryption called public key cryptography. This means that we don’t have to publish a key to use in encrypting transmissions, because having the very large number will not be of any help to decrypt the message. The only way to decrypt the message is if you have the two initial prime numbers, meaning hackers cannot get a hold of your information. It was very interesting to see how banks and sites like Amazon, who we communicate sensitive information with, protect our information by using prime numbers.

Our tour guide then escorted us to another exhibition, where we were able to explore the different generations of computing, and truly see and appreciate the development of computers and storage devices. From 1st generation computers we saw the world’s oldest original working computer, called the WITCH, a 2.5 ton precision calculator, as well as the EDSAC, the first practical general-purpose computer with stored memory. We were shocked by the sheer size and cost of the second generation computing, and the rapid development of devices through the rest of the generations. As of now we are currently in the fifth generation, however the sixth generation of computers may soon take over the shelves of stores, as fascinating work with AI and quantum computers is currently being done.

At the end of our visit, we were offered the very exciting opportunity of playing some old video games. Our personal favourites included the Simpsons pinball party and the taxi driving simulator. We were all particularly surprised, about how video games from the 1990s and 2000s had similar concepts to current video games, and we were rapidly absorbed into a world of crime, space and fantasy. However all too quickly it was time to get on the coach and head back.

After our trip, we watched a film in the auditorium: “The Imitation Game”. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a professor of mathematics at King’s College, whose code-breaking work helped win WW2, however his homosexuality eventually led to his persecution. This was a thought-provoking film based on a true story, however there were several inaccuracies for dramatic effect. We all thought it was a poignant and emotional film, with many tears being shed.

Overall it was a brilliant trip, and we hope that the computer science class next year enjoys it just as much as we did.

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