Ashbourne had another fantastic experience taking part in the National Cipher Challenge at the end of last year. Team ASHERS2016 got off to an amazing start and went on to take bronze in the overall competition. Though it was a valiant team effort, it was the determination of one particular student that sealed the deal.
Jiazheng Zhu, or Dean as he also likes to be known, is not typical of the students that usually enter competitions such as this. He doesn’t study computer science and knows very little about code-breaking, but came across a mention of the competition in an exemplar personal statement whilst doing some research. Looking into it further, he noticed the relationship between code-breaking and mathematics, and that piqued his interest: he saw it as the perfect opportunity to practise some of his skills, and perhaps develop some programming skills for the future.
Though comfortable cracking some of the codes alone, Dean also saw the benefit of working with a team. “Working alone, you can get stuck working on a wrong idea, until it’s too late. It’s good to talk through problems with other people”. Overall, Dean found the cipher challenge enjoyable, even though the problems became progressively harder. However, it was during the final challenge that Dean encountered obstacles that not even he could have anticipated!
Due to catch an early flight the following morning, Dean was eager to get the final code cracked. The plan was to work around the clock, submit the answers, then catch up on his sleep whilst on the plane. But then there was a hitch. Dean had left his charger behind at college on the day it was due to close early for the Ashbourne Revue. His laptop was running out of battery, and his hopes of finishing the challenge on time were slipping away. Thankfully, he was able to gain access later that night, grab his charger, head home and crack the code. Whilst most would be annoyed by the inconvenience of it all, Dean was grateful for the fact that he had spotted a problematic element in the code early on, and was given the mental space to think it through. It was 3.30am when Dean finally came to the end of the challenge. That’s dedication!
Now in his final year at Ashbourne, Dean is excited about what the future holds for him. Initially on a path to studying medicine, the uncertainty surrounding the NHS and his work experience at a UCL lab have since led to him to pursuing a maths-related degree instead. “I have many friends who have chosen mathematics for their degree, so there might be help and support I can get from them as they have experienced it”. Dean is unsure of his future career path, but likes that fact that a degree in mathematics presents him with many options. And who knows? After such a positive experience with the cipher challenge, code-breaking could very well be in his future.