The National Inventors Hall of Fame inducted Ralph C. Merkle March 3 2011. The announcement included Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman. The three jointly conceived and patented Public Key Cryptography (PKC).
Merkle realized PKC was possible in 1974 as an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley. He joined forces with Diffie and Hellman in 1976. This fruitful collaboration saw the development of this radically new method for securing electronic communications.
In traditional cryptography the same key is used both to encrypt and decrypt a message. To preserve secrecy, keys must be exchanged via couriers or other secure means. With PKC, each individual has his own unique key pair consisting of a public key and a private key. Only the public key needs to be exchanged, eliminating the need for couriers. If a person’s public key is used to encrypt a message, then only his corresponding private key can decrypt it, providing privacy. Likewise, if his private key is used to sign (encrypt) a message, the corresponding public key can authenticate (decrypt) the message.
Merkle is a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, is on the faculty of Singularity University, co-founded the Nanofactory Collaboration and is an Alcor Director. Born and raised in California, he first attended the University of California, Berkeley and then went on to Stanford for his Ph.D.
About the Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame is the premier non-profit organization in America dedicated to honoring legendary inventors whose innovations and entrepreneurial endeavors have changed the world. Founded in 1973 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Association, the Hall of Fame will have 460 Inductees with its 2011 Induction. The National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum is located in the atrium of the Madison Building on the campus of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, at 600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, VA. Hall of Fame hours are Monday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM, and Saturday from Noon to 5 PM (closed Sundays and federal holidays). Admission is free. For more information on the National Inventors Hall of Fame, including Inductee nomination forms, and a full listing of Inductees, please visit www.invent.org.