The profound impact of a researcher
Remembering Scott Vanstone and tracing his connections, influence and career
Remembering Scott Vanstone and tracing his connections, influence and careerBy Jodi Szimanski Faculty of Mathematics
In 1972, Scott Vanstone (BMath '70, MMath '71, PhD '74) walked into Ron Mullin’s (MA '60, PhD '64) office and told him he wanted to be his student. Originally, Scott started studying chemistry at the University of Waterloo, but switched to math.
According to Ron, “Scott had no choice but to become a mathematician … he said that he found out that math is more fun than hockey.” Ron, supervised by the now famous cryptographer William Tutte and the first student to graduate from Waterloo in 1964, was quickly convinced to take Scott as a student. The two became colleagues, co-founders and friends and their profound impact on the Waterloo and global cryptography community lives on today.
As he became a professor himself, his research covered combinatorial design theory, finite geometry and finite fields. In the 1980s, Scott focused on cryptography. He saw potential — not just in the mathematics of elliptic curve cryptography (ECC), but in talent. Alfred Menezes and Michele Mosca both alumni of Waterloo's St. Jerome's University were inspired by Scott while still in high school and chose to study mathematics at Waterloo after meeting him.
The two alumni who became professors at Waterloo also focused on cryptography. Alfred became the managing director of the Centre for Applied Cryptographic Research and Michele was one of the earliest researchers at the Institute for Quantum Computing, and now has two startups, evolutionQ and softwareQ.
“Scott was driven by curiosity, had raw talent working with very difficult mathematics, full of energy, and wanted to have a positive impact on the world,” Michele remembers. “He always looked ahead with a broad view.”