Obituaries: Bryant Tuckerman

September 6, 2002

Bryant Tuckerman, a long-time resident of Briarcliff Manor, New York, died on Sunday, May 19, 2002, at the age of 86. He was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 28, 1915, the son of Una Venable and Louis Bryant Tuckerman II, a well-known physicist and materials scientist with the U.S. National Bureau of Standards.

Bryant Tuckerman attended Antioch College and then Princeton University, where as a graduate student in mathematics, he contributed to the invention and theory of "flexagons" in collaboration with fellow students Arthur Stone, John Tukey, and Richard P. Feynmann. His graduate studies were interrupted by World War II, during which he worked at the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Office of Scientific Research and Development on navigational devices for tanks. After the war, he completed his PhD at Princeton in topology.

Tuckerman taught mathematics for several years at Cornell University and Oberlin College. He then worked for five years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton with John von Neumann on applications of such early computers as the MANIAC. He spent the remaining 35 years of his professional career in the Mathematics Department at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, where he received many awards and commendations for his pioneering work on applications of computers for scientific computation, number theory, cryptography, and data security.

In 1962 Tuckerman published Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions, a set of tables covering the years from 601 B.C. to 1649, which is still used by historians and archaeologists to date ancient documents containing astronomical references, from Babylonian times through the Renaissance. In 1971 he found the 24th Mersenne prime, 2^{19937}-1, then the largest known prime number. During the latter part of his career he worked extensively on cryptography and data security, and he was a key member of the IBM team that developed the Data Encryption Standard (DES), which was officially adopted by the U.S. government in 1976. DES became the standard encryption algorithm used by the global banking system to protect the security of financial transactions, as well as in many other applications requiring secure and private communications.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Charlotte Bazeley Tuckerman, his daughter Barbara Tuckerman Ali, son David B. Tuckerman, sister Mary McCoy, and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his eldest daughter, Joanne Tuckerman. A memorial service was held on June 23, 2002, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Briarcliff, Croton, and Ossining.


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