The National University of Singapore (NUS) today announced the creation of the “Cryptocurrency Strategy, Techniques, and Algorithms” or CRYSTAL Center, an academic research lab and think tank, aiming to lead as one of world’s foremost centers for research on blockchains. The lab is founded by a team of NUS professors. Prof. Prateek Saxena, an assistant professor in the computer science department of NUS, and Prof. Keith Carter, associate professor of practice in department of information systems and analytics will co-direct the Center located at the School of Computing at NUS. The CRYSTAL Center aims to providing scientific clarity in shaping technical research ideas in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. The team of experts has been responsible for several academically grounded spinoffs over the last two years in the blockchain ecosystem.
CRYSTAL will initially comprise between five and ten faculty members and several scholars working different research sub-areas. This includes experts on program language design and verification (Prof. Aquinas Hobor and Prof. Ilya Sergey), distributed computing algorithms (Prof. Haifeng Yu), security (Prof. Min Suk Kang and Prof. Prateek Saxena), and market economics (Prof. Keith Carter). The center will conduct research on scalable consensus protocols, verification & testing techniques, privacy-preserving computation, safe programming language design, applications, fundamentals of trading and analysis of cryptocurrency economics and highly available P2P network designs. These topics touch on many of struggles that the blockchain and cryptocurrency space presently currently faces.
“We hope to make debates in the community more scientifically-grounded. The goal is improve interaction between those armed with intuition and those with scientific rigor,” Saxena said. “We hope to draw attention to (unforeseen) scientific challenges, both near-term and long-term.”
CRYSTAL will engage in productive interaction with the industry to draw up new research problems and propose solutions to them. The research center also plans to host a series of structured events to facilitate interaction with the wider community. An annual workshop around three tracks --- including the technical research, business and entrepreneurship tracks --- is under works.
Dr. Loi Luu, CEO of Kyber Network said: “Started as an academic and developing public protocols, we at Kyber Network understand the importance of building secure blockchain systems that will eventually make great social and academic impact. … There are still several key technical challenges for blockchain to achieve mainstream adoption, and the NUS team is in one of the best positions...”
In all, the Center hopes to foster an open/public technical community of thought leaders and experts in the blockchain space, all working to further the ideation in blockchain research globally. In April 2018, the team created the Blockchain Technical Reading Group in Singapore as the first step towards bringing attention to important technical topics. One take away from the reading group was that there is a gap in the understanding of security underpinning current blockchain designs. The CRYSTAL center will work to close this gap through collaborative research.
Frank Xiang Wang of the X-Order Institute, said: "Crystal Center is one of the first lab in the world that focuses on both the technological side and the economic side of public blockchain. We look forward to the many discoveries and projects that will come out of it in the future."
Previous research from the CRYSTAL center founding team has led to leading companies in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space including high throughput blockchain platformZilliqa, decentralized liquidity network Kyber Network, enterprise blockchain company Anquan, and the scalability solution for smart contracts called TrueBit.
The original research for Zilliqa, for example, was performed in the lab of Dr. Saxena and published in research paper in 2015. Zilliqa, which aims to solve the issue of scalability and poor security in current blockchain platforms, has since grown into a team of the leading blockchain developers and entrepreneurs from around the world and has emerged as one of the leading platforms to host the next generation of decentralized smart contract applications.
Dr. Xinshu Dong, CEO of Zilliqa said: “The research vision for Zilliqa’s sharding and our new secure programming language, Scilla, were born in collaboration with the team behind this Center,” said. “It’s incredible that we are now in a position for Zilliqa to contribute and collaborate with what will become the leading blockchain research centers in the world. ”
The Crystal Center is funded through research gifts towards public and open research on blockchains and cryptocurrency. The initial sponsors of the Center include: Zilliqa, Kyber Network, NEO Global Capital, Quantstamp, Tateru, Chainfund, and the X-Order Institute. The lab has formed strategic partnerships with Dekrypt Capital, Blockchain at NTU, and Blockchain at Berkeley.
Kingsley Advani of Chain Consensus shared that "the team’s work has already been implemented in some of the world’s leading companies” and expects that the Center will likely produce “world-leading blockchain research." Richard Ma, CEO of Quantstamp, explained that the Center aligns closely with his company’s mission: "The team at the Crystal Center are responsible for some of the most cutting-edge security research in the blockchain world. As a research-led security company, we believe that strong technical and scientific standards will help create the foundation needed for trust and adoption of blockchain technology.” Roger Lim of NEO Global Capital, explained the promise the Center brings is “to bring scientific clarity to technical ideas and playing a key role in advancing the many innovative use cases of the technology.”