Oxford University to host blockchain research centre

University College Oxford has established a blockchain research centre which it hopes will help bring the technology into the mainstream.

University College is Oxford’s oldest college, founded in 1249, although for centuries it was exclusively open to the study of theology. Its many alumni include Professor Stephen Hawking, former Prime Ministers Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, writer CS Lewis and former US President Bill Clinton.

Now, the historic college is taking another step forward by hosting a blockchain research centre. A fellow of the college, computer scientist Professor Bill Roscoe – who was head of Oxford’s computer science department from 2003 to 2014 – will lead the centre.

"When I first started to look at blockchains less than two years ago I realised they provide a remarkable model of concurrency and security, but it did not seem to me that at least the obvious research on them had even scratched the surface of what is possible. I have produced a surprising range of results about them and [their] applications," Roscoe told E&T.

"After inventing a new green mining approach at the start of 2018 I realised that I now had it in my reach to achieve a really well-behaved public blockchain. This will take a multi-disciplinary research effort, thus the need for the centre."

The centre is closely associated with a Chinese laboratory, the Chieftin Lab; the lab's existing research base will move to Oxford University, where they will be joined by European researchers and new postdoctoral students by the end of the year.

The research group will begin by focusing on computing and cryptography. The researchers already have two partners to support major environment projects, and aim to improve the efficiency of blockchain mining, which has attracted controversy due to the extremely high energy usage associated with cracking complex computational problems on which the technology is built, to the extent that there are concerns that cryptocurrency mining could hamper climate mitigation efforts.

They will also be working to build new privacy and fair exchange models to support cryptocurrency exchanges, and - beyond the realm of cryptocurrency - will investigate e-government projects and new security technologies. The centre will also be looking into approaches to new challenges to the technology, such as how blockchains may be protected in the long term as quantum computers threaten standard security measures with unprecedented computational power.

"We concentrate at present on computer science and cryptography, but expect to reach out into law and economics. There is also potential for links with research into big data, government and politics and even philosophy," Roscoe commented.

University College Oxford is not the first prestigious higher education institute to jump on the blockchain bandwagon; in June, Stanford University announced that it would be creating a centre for blockchain research, which could focus on understanding the technology and its potential impacts and create a code of best practice for the blockchain industry.

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