For the First Time, Scientists Use Crystals and Chemistry to Generate Truly Random Numbers

Trying to create complete randomness in numbers is harder to come by than you may think.
Fabienne Lang

If you thought you could come up with a random number, you may have to think again. The same goes for computers that generate random number sequences — they aren't truly randomized. 

Random number generation is required in cryptography and other mathematical modeling, however, it's still hard to come by. Now, a team of scientists from the University of Glasgow has found a way to do so: by growing crystals

Their study was published in the journal Matter.


Encryption and random number sequencing

Proper encryption is becoming more and more important as the world turns towards technological advancements. Logging into websites and securing web traffic has never been as crucial as now, and this is going to be an upward trend. 

So scientists and coders have to find ways to create random numbers. Sometimes they use natural sources such as radioactive decay, and atmospheric noise to do so.

Now, a team of chemists has, for the first time, used a different type of natural source to create randomness: chemistry. 

The University of Glasgow team built a robotic system that follows the process of crystallization to come up with a random sequence of numbers and encrypt information.

Lee Cronin, senior author of the study and chemistry professor at the University of Glasgow explained "We took the word 'crystal!' and we encoded it using our random number generator. And we also used a well-known algorithm."

Cronin added "We found our messages encoded with the genuinely random numbers took longer to crack than the algorithm because our system could guess the algorithm and then just brute force it."

How does it work?

It's quite simple really: chemicals in a liquid can sometimes go from a disorganized state to a very organized one, otherwise known as a crystal

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Much in the same way, Cronin and his team built a robot that looks at a number of crystallization chambers through a webcam and then converts parts of what it sees into a string of ones and zeroes. The researchers looked at three different chemical reactions and once their decryptor discovered how to use an algorithm that generates numbers, their crystallization method was very tough to crack. 

In Cronin's own words "The whole idea is to have a random process with a random process than with a random crystallization. If you put all those together, would you get even better random numbers?"

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