Peter Williston Shor was born in New York city in 1959. He received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and post-doctoral training at the University of California in Berkley. In 1986, he joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, and moved, in 1997, to AT&T laboratories in Florham Park, New Jersey. He became, since 2003, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT, while being is also affiliated with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Center for Theoretical Physics.
Professor Shor is most famous for his work on quantum computation, in particular for devising a quantum algorithm, now known as Shor’s Algorithm, for factoring faster than the fastest known algorithm running on a digital computer. Shor’s algorithm uses a number of steps that grow only polynomially in the size of the instance, for example, the number of digits in the number to be factored. He thus made the physical development of quantum computers (hypothetical machines of which only small prototypes have so far been built) more feasible by showing that errors in the computation need not inevitably disrupt the operations of a quantum computer – he exhibited quantum correcting codes which could be used to build a quantum computer out of slightly noisy components.
In addition to the King Faisal International Prize for Science, professor Shor was awarded the Rolf Nevanlinna Prize from the International Congress of Mathematicians, the Dickson Prize in Science, the International Quantum Communication Award and the Gödel Prize for best paper in theoretical computer science. In 1999, he was awarded the MacArthur fellowship (nicknamed “Genius Fellowship”), which is awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to US citizens and residents of any age and field of research “who show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”
In 2007, he was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award from Caltech. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.