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Codebreakers merchandise wins ACE 'Range of the Year'

The Association for Cultural Enterprises (ACE) name The Fitzwilliam winner of 'Range of the Year' at their Best Product Awards, for Alan Turing's zeta function machine gift range.

The Alan Turing zeta function machine gift range accompanied the 2017 interdisciplinary exhibition 'Codebreakers and Groundbreakers'. It dealt with the period from the late 1930’s to the mid 1940s, when Cambridge scientists and academics worked on cracking equations, ancient languages, and ultimately, breaking the secrets of the German war machine.

In 1939, at King’s College, Cambridge, Alan Turing began to construct a machine to calculate zeta functions in an attempt to solve the Riemann Hypothesis, a famous mathematical problem.  He was assisted in this endeavour by a young Canadian student of engineering, his research partner at King's, Donald MacPhail, who drew the schematic diagram of the machine which was the inspiration for the range.

Together, Turing and MacPhail began to make, by hand, the large number of gear wheels from the drawing which were kept in a suitcase under Turing’s bed. With the outbreak of WWII, the project had to be abandoned. Turing famously went on to build the Bombe, the code-breaking computer which cracked the encryptions of the German Enigma machine at Bletchley Park. MacPhail became an accomplished expert in the field of aerodynamics. No parts of the zeta function machine survive, and the Riemann Hypothesis remains unsolved to this day.

The original drawing, which formed part of the exhibition, was considerably damaged by folding and creasing, and being a dyeline drawing, somewhat blurred. It was digitally restored and painstakingly enhanced to create an intriguing work of art which offered exciting commercial potential. The original is held in the archive of Kings College, who graciously gave their permission, along with Mrs Emma McPhail, for the use of the image.

Cambridge is the British home of mathematics and computing, and as such it was felt the bespoke range would have a product life beyond the exhibition. It will be reintroduced for both the Cambridge Science Fair and Festival of Ideas.

The Fitzwilliam's range brought to the market a previously unpublished, even unknown, material of historical significance, celebrating Britain’s finest scientific minds.

Runners up in “Range of the Year” were the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.

22 March 2018

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