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During the '80s, when Adleman took on AIDS research in addition to mathematics, he found himself in a rare position for a computer scientist - he already knew how to do biological benchwork.He was able to synthesize strands of DNA, and splice and dice them to read the messages spelled out in their molecular strings.Answers can only be found by crunching through every possible solution, and most hard problems are too difficult for humans or computers to solve.
He was looking for the one itinerary known to connect the cities in a directed Hamiltonian path - a path that would begin in Atlanta, end in Detroit, and pass through each intervening city only once.Assuming one was trying to solve the problem on a computer working at 1 trillion operations per second, this computation would take 10135 seconds - vastly longer than the age of the universe!"I didn't want to do a cheap pet trick," says Adleman of choosing this problem.Since not all cities are directly connected, the challenge lay in discovering the one continuous path to link them all.A Hamiltonian path problem involving four or five cities can be solved by doodling on a piece of paper, but when the number of cities grows by even a small amount, the problem's difficulty balloons - it becomes what is known in mathematical terms as "hard." Hard problems cannot be solved efficiently by algebraic equations.It was Christmas of 1993, and two unexpected gifts lay in front of him: a design for the world's first molecular computer, and its first problem to solve.Adleman imagined testing his DNA computer with something called a directed Hamiltonian path problem.Adleman received a bachelor’s degree (1968) in mathematics and a doctorate (1976) in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, where his thesis adviser was Manuel Blum (the 1995 Turing Award winner).After leaving Berkeley, Adleman taught in the mathematics department at MIT (1976–80) and then in the computer science department at the University of Southern California (1980– ), where he is the Henry Salvatori Professor (1985– ) and a Distinguished Professor (2000– ).data-encryption scheme relied on the enormous difficulty of factoring the product of two very large prime numbers, which form a cryptographic key.It's a teaspoonful of DNA that's a computer! In the summer of 1993, Leonard Adleman was lying in bed reading James Watson's textbook Molecular Biology of the Gene when he mumbled to his wife, "Gee, this is really amazing stuff." And the idea hit him!Adleman, a mathematician well-known for his work in computer security and cryptography, was struck by the similarity between DNA - the basic stuff of life - and computers.