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The Corporation

Posted: 03/05/16

Students go back in technological time

A world of cypher-breaking and wartime secrets was explored by students from West Nottinghamshire College.

  • Computer science students (from left) Sian-Rae Walton, Alex Robinson and Tom Hardwick learn more about the Colossus computer
  • Steffan Walker, Matthew McEvoy, Ryan Heald and Matthew Knaggs with some of the computer technology that aided Britain in World War Two
  • Adam Woodward steps back in time using an early computer
  • Students even found a bit of college history among the archives!

During a visit to Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, students on the Level 3 Systems Support and Software Development programmes got to see the beginnings of information technology at the mansion house once described as ‘Britain’s best-kept secret’ as the scene of World War Two’s now-infamous code-breakers.

Run by the Government Code and Cypher School, the building housed a secret team of cryptanalysts, mathematicians, members of MI6 and university graduates who cracked the Nazi’s covert communications.

Now a popular heritage site and tourist attraction, the visit, on Monday 18 April, saw a group of 40 students tour the museum that features the re-built and fully-working ‘bombe’ – an electromechanical device used to help decipher German Enigma machine-encrypted classified messages during the war.

They also learned about the history of Bletchley Park and saw the world's first semi-programmable electronic computer – the mark two Colossus – in action, before having a go on some of the earliest computers from throughout the ages.

Software development student Charlie Evans, 18, said: “It was really interesting to discover how all the machines worked and to see how they’ve been re-built since the war.

“We got to have a go on the tickertape machine and printed-out our names using the alphabetic symbols which they used in the war. We enjoyed hearing the stories of the cypher-breakers and we were surprised at just how much paper these early machines used.”

Scott Marshall, programme area leader for computing, said: “The visit was hugely insightful. It was eye-opening to see how quickly technology has advanced, which shows just how privileged we are today. The knowledge the students have gleaned from this trip will really help them in their forthcoming units such as computer architecture, network security, and mathematics for IT practitioners”.