Foresight Institute Feynman Prize winner Dr. Ralph Merkle, perhaps better known to Nanodot readers for his nanotech work, has just won the IEEE’s Hamming Medal along with Martin Hellman and Whitfield Diffie:

Thirty-five years ago, Martin Hellman, Whitfield Diffie and Ralph Merkle developed an easy method for sending secure messages over insecure channels. With the advent of the Internet, their technology, called public key cryptography, is now used continuously everywhere in the world.

“When a lock icon appears at the bottom of your browser, it’s using public key cryptography. Your computer and the merchant’s computer can talk back and forth across an insecure channel and exchange credit card information in a way that someone listening in cannot get it,” said Hellman, Stanford professor emeritus of electrical engineering.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has named Hellman, Diffie and Merkle the 2010 Richard W. Hamming Medalists. Hellman said he was especially happy that the award recognizes the contribution of Merkle, whose early work on public key encryption didn’t get the acknowledgement it deserved.

“Ralph really deserves equal credit with us. I am really glad to see him being recognized on this award,” Hellman said.

Read the whole article for the interesting details and politics behind the work, and a great photo of all three back in 1975 (lots of hair).  Congratulations!  —Chris Peterson