Cryptographer Boaz Barak yesterday was named as one of the Packard Foundation’s fellows in science and engineering. The much coveted fellowships give researchers $625,000 over five years — and the freedom to push the edge of scientific inquiry unfettered by funding restrictions.

A former postdoctoral researcher for Avi Wigderson at the Institute for Advanced Study, Barak works at the intersection of mathematics and computer science. Although he is an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton, Barak tells Kitta MacPherson of the Star-Ledger that he doesn’t use computers in his theoretical work — he works out his ideas with pen and paper.

While surely his work will have implications for securing the transmission of data over the Internet, Barak’s research is more fundamental. “I’m not asking what can we build that will not be broken today,” Barak, a native of Israel, tells MacPherson. “What we are looking at is what can we prove that’s simply impossible to break within, say, the computing resources that exist in the universe.”

Barak has written a forthcoming book with Sanjeev Arora on computational complexity theory, a draft of which can be downloaded (note: this will not be a breezy read for the mathematically phobic, who may prefer to check out the blog discussion and readings for the reputedly mind-blowing class for non-majors that Arora taught last year on the computational universe).

By the way, Arora was a Packard fellow in 1997. Other former Packard fellows among Princeton Engineering faculty are Stephen Chou, Yannis Kevrekidis, and Kyle Vanderlick.