A school report of gay mathematician and war hero Alan Turing will be part of the new Codebreakers and Groundbreakers exhibition which opens this week at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum.
The report is from 1929 when Turing was 13 years old and it’s generally quite mixed. Several of Turing’s teachers praise him for his work but also note how hasty and messy some of it has been. He was strongest in his principal subjects (Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics) and generally weaker in French and English.
“His work on Higher Certificate papers shows distinct promise, but he must realise that ability to put a neat and tidy solution on paper – intelligible and legible – is necessary for a first-rate mathematician,” his Math teacher wrote.
The exhibition will also feature the book Turing was given when he won the first Christopher Morcom Science Prize at Sherborne School. This was set up by Morcom’s parents in memory of their son who died in 1930 at the age of 18. Morcom is believed to have been Turing’s first love.
Turing’s work during the Second World War was instrumental in the decryption of German ciphers at the Bletchley Park facility, where he constructed electromechanical machines to quickly decode encrypted messages. Some historians estimate that the work that Turing and many other codebreakers (a lot of them were women) did at Bletchley Park shortened the war in Europe by at least four years.
He’s considered the founder of computer science and in 1950 he devised a test to evaluate a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligence. He called the test “the imitation game” and it’s currently referred to as the Turing test. This test has been proven to be a widely influential yet somewhat controversial topic in computer science.
Alan Turing was arrested and prosecuted in 1952 when being gay was a criminal offense in the United Kingdom. He chose to be chemically castrated to avoid prison. He died on June 7, 1954, of cyanide poisoning and his death was ruled as suicide. He was 42 years old. The British Government apologized for the appalling treatment of Alan Turing in 2009.