Blog > 2022 > October > How IOG’s research spans the academic world

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 Olga Hryniuk 11 mins read

How IOG’s research spans the academic world

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:

  • cryptography
  • software engineering
  • distributed systems
  • human-computer interaction
  • networks
  • formal verification
  • programming languages
  • trusted hardware
  • economics
  • 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.

I’d like to thank professor Aggelos Kiayias, Mirjam Wester, and Anthony Quinn for their contributions to this blog post.

Selected publications

Blockchain Technology Lab blog:

IOG blog: