As the industry of cryptocurrencies matures and the public interest heightens, blockchain research and educational efforts made their path into the halls of some of the leading universities of the world. Some courses on cryptocurrency finance, as well as blockchain development and related law,  develop into severe avenues of study. Complementing the classroom offerings, as well as university-led blockchain research and development initiatives are on the rise, as teams of professors, blockchain developers, and students work to take the industry from market speculation to mainstream application.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) features the oldest and maybe the best-known university-sponsored blockchain development lab in the world. Since 2015, the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative has brought together some of the leading independent developers in the space with MIT faculty to extend the development of such applications as the Lightning Network.

Halfway into this year, some of the top universities in the world are joining MIT and vetting initiatives of their own. The Stanford’s month-old blockchain R&D lab, new in structure but by no means unique to the field, was launched with a bit of a jumpstart. The co-directors Dan Boneh and David Mazières have three years of blockchain-focused research, as well as academic documents to set the lab into movement. Both directors are Stanford’s computer science professors and have advanced classes on blockchain technology since 2015.

As these labs start operating in the background of academia, these professors can take the work which they have done in the classroom and work toward physical developments. At the intersection of education, as well as innovation, these R&D efforts show the potential and need for industry growth – and the plethora of talent which can nourish it.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a target to the blockchain, as well as cryptocurrency research and development longer than most. The Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) of MIT, which was founded in 2015, in an offshoot of the Media Lab of the university. Working alongside with some other universities and research centers, the lab is a collective of tech industry veterans, crypto programmers, as well as faculty, students, and research scientists.

The initiative was pulled both from within MIT faculty and from without to cultivate an accomplished team. The led director, Neha Narula, a member of the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Blockchain, as well as the MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito.  The team highlights a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund in Simon Johnson and Gary Gensler, an Obama-era Commodity, and Futures Trade Commission director.

Being one of the oldest R&D labs in the space, it employs Bitcoin Core developers Wladimir van der Laan and Cory Fields, as well as Tadge Dryja, the co-author of the Lightning Network white paper.

The West Coast University offered cryptocurrency and blockchain classes, but it was not until this year that the institution launched its own research initiative.

Supported with funding by the Ethereum Foundation, such as Protocol Labs and Polychain Capital among the others, the Center for Blockchain Research of Stanford is led by computer science professors Dan Boneh and David Mazières. The center is the practical culmination of the academic work both professors have committed to the field since 2015.

While the research for these works comes from within Stanford, the inspiration for them, as well as the problems which they look to solve, come from the myriad projects in the industry.

Looking toward the things that are about to come, Boneh indicated that, for the near future, the center will be focused on educational outreach. It is also holding an open series of summer seminars on topics such as scaling and SNARKs, and it is going to be hosting the third annual Stanford Blockchain Conference from the 30th of January to the 1st of February, 2019. The conference is also calling for submissions until the 16th of October, 2018.

The University of Edinburgh

The Blockchain Technology Laboratory (BLT), with funding from Charles Hoskinson and Jeremy Wood’s IOHK, is working with the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, to advance blockchain research and innovation. The director of BLT, Aggelos Kiayias, and Hoskinson forged the alliance from a shared desire, to address the pain points of the industry, such as the proof-of-stake consensus model, with the use of what Kiayias calls first principles to approach.

In one interview, Kiayias continued to say that, while the focus of the lab was so far on the design of distributed ledgers protocols, their security, as well as stability, sustainability, interoperability, as well as performance and economics, it is in the process of expanding with collaborations in the school of business, economics, math, architecture and political science.

Some other research centers

The Imperial College of London has its own center which is dedicated to blockchain and cryptocurrency research too. Just like its peers, the Centre for Cryptocurrency Research and Engineering publishes academic articles on its findings and hosts educational events. Recently, the two members, the professors William Knottenbelt and Dr. Zeynep Gurguc, have published entitled “Cryptocurrencies: Overcoming Barriers to Trust and Adoption.” It also touts cryptocurrency as the next logical iteration of the global finance, rationalizing the reasons why the financial tool has all the markings of a digital fiat equivalent and what it is going to take to see widespread adoption.

Outside of the lab-directed research, some other universities, as well as their organization have published reports that have been invaluable for the industry.

For the role of academia in blockchain research and development, professor Boneh said that there is real science to be done here.

With universities, as well as independent researchers chipping away at the challenges and limitations at the space, such contributions are welcomed reminder that, even in times of market downturns, there is more to the industry than investing. Innovation also cares little for speculation, and the work being undertaken at these universities bodes well for the continued growth of the technology.


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