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Mathematician to receive Bethel Young Alumnus Award for 2007

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Awards Committee of the Bethel College Alumni Association has named Susan Loepp, Williamstown, Mass., as the winner of the 2007 Young Alumnus Award.

Loepp is an associate professor of mathematics at Williams College, where she has been since 1996. Her field of research is commutative algebra and she often teaches courses in abstract algebra at Williams.

Loepp is a 1989 graduate of Bethel College with a B.A. in mathematics and a B.S. in physics. She earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin in 1994, where her dissertation topic was “Making the generic formal fiber local.” She was a visiting professor at the University of Nebraska from 1994-96.

Loepp is the author of a number of articles published in the Journal of Algebra, the Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra and the Rocky Mountain Journal of Algebra, among others. In 2006, she published her first book, a collaborative effort with fellow Williams College professor William Wootters, a physicist.

Protecting Information: From Classical Error Correction to Quantum Cryptography (Cambridge University Press) is intended as a text for undergraduate students as well as an introduction to mathematical strategies used to ensure faithful transmission of information through “noisy” channels such as a scratch on a CD.

Information may be intercepted by an identity thief or corrupted by sources of noise such as that scratch on the CD. Because of this, communications are often protected by mathematical codes designed to compensate for the noise or foil a potential eavesdropper. However, an eavesdropper of the future might have access to a “quantum computer” that could crack many of the codes currently in use.

Protecting Information begins with a brief history of secret codes and goes on to explain important present-day code systems as well as futuristic schemes based on the laws of quantum physics. Loepp and Wootters show not only how an eavesdropper could use a quantum computer to render current encryption useless but also how this problem could be overcome with “quantum cryptography,” a technique still in the experimental phase but is not far from practical implementation. They pull ideas from mathematics, physics and computer science to discuss their subject.

The book grew in part out of a course that Loepp and Wootters teach together, “Protecting Information: Applications of Abstract Algebra and Quantum Physics.” They incorporated student feedback from the course into the book, which Loepp says “substantially improved the final version.” The book was also enabled in part by an $85,000 grant from the National Science Foundation from 2000-02, under which Loepp and Wootters developed an interdisciplinary course for undergraduates on protecting information.

Loepp has also been the recipient of funds from two other substantial NSF grants, 1999-2000 and 1999-2004 (the latter as part of a research project with six others). Awards that have recognized her teaching abilities include Dodd Teaching Excellence Awards from the University of Texas at Austin 1989-91, 1992 and 1993 and a Department of Mathematics Teaching Excellence Award from UT in 1992. The Williams College student body presented Loepp with the Faculty of the Year Award in 2001. While she was at Bethel, Loepp, a tennis player, received Academic All-American honors from the NAIA in 1988 and 1989.

Loepp will be on campus to receive her award and present a special convocation on Friday, March 9. She will speak on “Protecting your personal information: An introduction to encryption.” The 11 a.m. lecture, in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center, is free and open to the public.

The Young Alumnus Award recognizes character and citizenship, achievement or service rendered, honor and recognition received. The recipient must be 39 years of age or younger.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at

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