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  • Writer's pictureSofia Ng

Strong Women: Sarah Flannery

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

In the world of mathematics and technology, there's a superstar who started making waves before she even hit adulthood. Imagine being a teenager and cracking codes that stump the best minds in cryptography. Sounds like the plot of a thrilling spy movie, right? Well, hold onto your math hats because we're diving into the fascinating story of Sarah Flannery, the math whiz who conquered the world of cryptography with a dash of youthful enthusiasm and a whole lot of brainpower!

The Early Days of a Math Maven

Our story begins in County Cork, Ireland, where a young Sarah Flannery, the eldest of five siblings, embarked on her journey into the world of numbers and codes. She attended Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál in Blarney, your typical high school until she decided to make it anything but typical. While most of us were struggling with algebra, Sarah was giving a science fair presentation on cryptography. Yeah, you read that right—cryptography! The kind of stuff spies and secret agents use to keep their messages safe.

Cracking Codes and Winning Hearts

Now, let's fast forward to a pivotal moment in 1999. At just sixteen years old, Sarah became the rock star of the Esat Young Scientist Exhibition. What earned her this rock star status, you ask? Well, it was none other than the Cayley–Purser algorithm, a mind-boggling creation that she developed during a brief internship at Baltimore Technologies. This algorithm was so groundbreaking that it could encode information on the Internet a whopping thirty-three times faster than anyone had ever thought possible! Imagine your Wi-Fi speed suddenly skyrocketing—yup, that was Sarah's work!

But wait, there's more. Her project titled "Cryptography – A new algorithm versus the RSA" not only wowed the judges at the science fair but also clinched the EU Young Scientist of the Year Award in 1999. She was like the rock star of the math and science world, and she hadn't even hit college yet!

From the Emerald Isle to Cambridge and Beyond

So, what does a math prodigy like Sarah do after conquering the Young Scientist world? She packs her bags and heads off to the University of Cambridge, one of the most prestigious institutions on the planet. In 2003, she graduated with a degree in computer engineering, solidifying her status as a mathematical powerhouse.

Fast forward to 2006, and you'd find Sarah working for Electronic Arts (EA), the video game development giant. But she wasn't just another employee. No, she was a software engineer, a title that doesn't quite capture the magic she worked at EA. Sarah set up the EA Open Source program, dabbled in data visualizations on software architecture, and even revolutionized the virtual economy in games like The Sims Online.

A Puzzle-Loving, Code-Cracking Superstar

Now, let's pause for a moment and appreciate the fact that Sarah wasn't just all about algorithms and codes. Nope, she was a puzzle enthusiast too! In fact, her passion for puzzles and mathematics shines through in her book, "In Code," co-authored with her math-savvy father, David Flannery. This book not only delves into the creation and decryption of the Cayley-Purser algorithm but also takes us on a journey through her love for puzzles and math.

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