How IOG’s research spans the academic world
As a leading blockchain infrastructure and engineering company, IOG is dedicated to tackling the industry’s difficult questions
25 October 2022 11 mins read
IOG has made its reputation building and maintaining Cardano and ada – its first native cryptocurrency. Academic research has been the foundation for a secure, decentralized, and scalable ledger that has led the way in proof-of-stake blockchains for five years.
Collaborating with researchers and top universities across the globe, IOG is dedicated to tackling difficult research questions and establishing a solid foundation for fintech blockchain infrastructure. And in this post, we discuss the establishment of a network of institutions and laboratories committed to the investigation of distributed technology.
IOG research is led by Aggelos Kiayias, the chief scientist at IOG and a professor at the University of Edinburgh. The research team includes 26 staff members – professors, scientists, research fellows, and research engineers – all committed to the investigation of a wide area of topics, including:
- software engineering
- distributed systems
- human-computer interaction
- formal verification
- programming languages
- trusted hardware
- policy and regulation regarding securities, foreign exchange, and businesses.
The role of chief scientist
Professor Kiayias joined IOG in October 2016 as chief scientist, bringing the executive team up to five members. He holds the professorial chair in cybersecurity and privacy at the University of Edinburgh. Furthermore, he arrived with a formidable reputation in blockchain, having written one of the most-referenced papers in the history of the technology – ‘The bitcoin backbone protocol: Analysis and applications’ with Juan Garay and Nikos Leonardos. According to Google Scholar, it has about 1,450 citations so far. From the start, Professor Kiayias was determined to build Cardano from scratch while taking in the best minds and ideas. As he said at the time:
While other companies may consider taking shortcuts or focus on just engineering their products, IOHK makes long-term commitments in building basic tools that are available to the community as a whole and in advancing the science behind blockchain systems.
Besides blockchain technology and distributed systems, Professor Kiayias’s interests cover computer security, information security, cryptography, e-voting and secure multiparty protocols, as well as privacy and identity management. In 2006 while at the University of Connecticut, his faculty worked with the authorities to evaluate the voting machines used for presidential elections in the state of Connecticut. During this evaluation, the faculty reported system vulnerabilities, which if used maliciously, could influence election outcomes. Professor Kiayias has also led a research project investigating electronic voting for national elections in Greece.
As the chief scientist at IOG, Prof Kiayias has led blockchain research, particularly investigating existing distributed ledger technology and suggesting ideas for technology implementation with proven security, decentralization, and privacy characteristics. This led to the theory behind Ouroboros and the paper proving its security has also joined the ranks of the most-cited blockchain papers. In 2017, Prof Kiayias launched a blockchain course at the University of Edinburgh, making it one of the first European institutions to teach blockchain technology. He told the Financial Times:
As well as learning the skills needed to build a blockchain, there are other benefits in studying the technology. You can learn an incredible amount about cyber security just by studying the blockchain.
By 2021, the Edinburgh laboratory included nine staff members and 21 researchers and doctoral students. Later that year, Prof Kiayias joined IOG’s Professor Philip Wadler in being appointed a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh – an institution dating back to 1783 that has included Benjamin Franklin (the face on the US $100 note since 1914); James Clerk Maxwell, the most influential 19th-century physicist; James Watt, whose steam engine was so vital to the Industrial Revolution; and Nobel Prize winner Peter Higgs, whose work on subatomic particles led to the discovery of the Higgs boson.
IOG’s academic associations
At IOG, research is an integral part of technology development, helping to deliver high-assurance blockchain solutions based on functional correctness.
Funding from IOG, the European Union, Intel, and the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council led to the establishment of the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at Edinburgh. This is the hub of a network of universities in the US, Japan, and Greece that collaborate on industry-inspired open access research in decentralized systems.
The members of the Blockchain Technology Laboratory network are:
- the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at Edinburgh
- the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
- the Cryptocurrency Collaborative Research Chair at Tokyo Institute of Technology
- Wyoming Advanced Blockchain Lab at the University of Wyoming
These laboratories focus on areas related to blockchain and cryptography technology, including provable security, cryptographic primitives and protocols, and secure multiparty computation. The labs also develop new protocols and identify and formalize novel security definitions and cryptographic models.
So far this year, members of the Edinburgh lab have had eleven papers accepted at academic conferences. The research on topics such as ZK Snarks, blockchain governance, proof of useful work, and central bank digital currencies will undoubtedly find its way into blockchain systems in the years to come. The lab’s blog has reached out into many sectors outside blockchain, including Covid contract tracing and the potential effect on banking.
Expanding the research network
Some areas of research require highly specific expertise, and IOG’s research reputation is now such that it can attract collaborators of the highest caliber. An example of this is game theory, where IOG collaborates with Oxford University's Professor Elias Koutsoupias. He received the Gödel Prize for theoretical computer science in 2012 for his work on the price of anarchy, in reference to laying the foundations of algorithmic game theory.
In 2022, IOG collaborated with Stanford by funding a new $4.5m blockchain research hub at the university. This brings together Stanford academics from various departments to tackle blockchain foundational questions, collate scientific knowledge, and promote the fundamental need for research into the topic.
In addition to that, IOG is also engaging with such dedicated research projects:
- Design and Analysis of Blockchain Consensus Algorithms: working with Professor Alexander Russell from the University of Connecticut to investigate the different designs of blockchain consensus algorithms.
- Eclipse-Resistant Network Overlays for Fast Data Dissemination: working with Dr Spyros Voulgaris from the Athens University of Economics and Business to investigate efficient data dissemination.
- Verifiable Digital Fountains: working with Professor David Tse and PhD researchers from Stanford to enhance the interest in both fundamental and applied blockchain research.
- Verified (pairing-based) EC cryptography: working with Professor Tanja Lange and her students at Eindhoven University of Technology on an Elligator friendly, pairing friendly embedded curve.
- Constraint-Based Local Search for Proof-of-Useful Work: working with Professor Laurent Michel also at the University of Connecticut.
- Evaluating User Perceptions of Wallet Key Management Methods: a project with a team of professors and researchers at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
- Performance Improvements for Collective Stake-Based Signing: working with Professor Leonid Reyzin from Boston University.
Besides establishing academic collaborations on a company level, IOG chief Charles Hoskinson has always had a personal interest in formal mathematics and research. Working with Professor Jeremy Avigad at Carnegie Mellon University, the Formal Mathematics in Lean project grew into the establishment of the Hoskinson Center for Formal Mathematics. The center was made possible by a $20 million donation from Hoskinson. He commented for the Carnegie Mellon announcement:
We can bring together the best minds in mathematics, computer science, and machine learning to create an infrastructure for using formal mathematics as a core educational tool. I am honored to be part of the creation of such an important center where collaboration, exploration, and discovery open the door to incentivizing and supporting mathematical activity and giving it the resources for advanced methods of automation.
The final word
With decentralized teams across the globe, IOG connects geographically dispersed researchers in leading universities to encourage innovation through collective effort. This work drives forward blockchain development for Cardano and many other ledgers, and also contributes to technology adoption and cross-chain interoperability.
Within the company, which is now almost 500-strong, 40 people have profiles on Google Scholar at IOHK or IOG. Many of these are in engineering positions, as well as academic, demonstrating the depth of the company’s expertise in implementing research. The IOG research library now includes over 160 research papers.
To date, IOG is the only blockchain research and development company with such an extensive network of academics and research impact.
If you are interested to find out more about Cardano's research overview, see this IOG research overview article on Essential Cardano.
Blockchain Technology Lab blog:
- Pool splitting behaviour and equilibrium properties in Cardano’s rewards scheme. Written by by Christina Ovezik and Aggelos Kiayias, this article focuses on the aspect of decentralization and particularly on its dependence on system incentives. The article also examines the case of Cardano, a proof-of-stake blockchain, whose design followed a first-principles approach, guided by research performed jointly with the Blockchain Technology Laboratory.
- Comparison of alternative reward schemes for Cardano. Written by Christina Ovezik and Aggelos Kiayias, this article examines some alternative reward schemes to the one used in the Cardano ledger. Discussed schemes have been proposed by members of the Cardano community (CIP-7, CIP-50). The article introduces motivation and main differences for each of the schemes and experiments that compare their performance.
- Turning academic research into cutting-edge technology: Blockchain Technology Laboratory and the Cardano ledger. In this article, Professor Aggelos Kiayias addresses the issues of energy efficiency, decentralization, scalability, privacy, programmability and regulatory compliance in blockchain ledgers such as Bitcoin. Professor Kiayias then provides an overview of the blockchain protocol that can achieve a similar level of decentralization and inclusiveness as Bitcoin but at a negligible fraction of the cost. The protocol resulting from the efforts between the Blockchain Technology Laboratory and IOG is the Ouroboros suite of protocols.
- Rethinking information technology from a decentralization perspective, webinar by Prof. Aggelos Kiayias. In this webinar at the Crypto and Blockchain Economics Research Forum (CBER) Prof. Aggelos Kiayias discusses information technology from a decentralization perspective, which is based upon this research.
- Advances in blockchain technology Scotland 2020 – Webinar. The event showcased the world-class research on blockchain technology taking place at the University of Edinburgh.
- The Architecture of Decentralized Finance Platforms in the Post COVID-19 Era — A New Open Finance Paradigm. The Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford have published in the Oxford Business Law Blog a comprehensive summary of a recent interdisciplinary research paper by Prof. Emilios Avgouleas and Prof. Aggelos Kiayias constituting a new paradigm of decentralized finance in the post COVID-19 era.
- To (De)centralize or Not: COVID-19 Contact Tracing. In this article, Professor Kiayias discusses the peculiarities of contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- COVID-19, contact tracing from a security and privacy perspective. Contact tracing can be useful to lift the lockdown measures sooner rather than later. Without a comprehensive treatment and vaccination solution, it is essential to keep the disease in check – contact tracing is an effective mechanism for doing that.
- On the Ouroboros design: How rigor and engineering are essential for critical infrastructure: highlights some of the general approaches followed in the design of Ouroboros and in the related research efforts carried out at IOG.
- How does Casper compare to Ouroboros?: explains the differences between the proposed Ethereum protocols and Cardano’s consensus algorithm.
- Stake pools in Cardano: introduces the concept of staking.
- Enter the Hydra: scaling distributed ledgers, the evidence-based way: explains Hydra - the multi-headed ledger protocol.
- The Ouroboros path to decentralization. Ouroboros is the protocol that powers Cardano and its design philosophy.
- The general perspective on staking in Cardano: gives staking advice for stakeholders – delegators and stake pool operators.
- Blockchain reward sharing – a comparative systematization from first principles: explains the choices made in the design of Cardano’s reward-sharing scheme.
- Babel fees – denominating transaction costs in native tokens: introduces a novel mechanism that allows the payment of transaction fees in user-defined tokens on Cardano.
- Stablefees and the Decentralized Reserve System: explores a new way to help make fees fair, stable, and more predictable over time.