With $5.75M Grant, Yale Leads Multidisciplinary Blockchain Center

August 4, 2022

With a grant from the Algorand Foundation, Yale researchers are leading a cross-disciplinary team of experts working to advance blockchain systems, while exploring their connections to economics and law. 

The 5-year grant for $5.75 million will fund PAVE: A Center for Privacy, Accountability, Verification and Economics of Blockchain Systems. The center will be led by Charalampos Papamanthou, associate professor of computer science at Yale University.

The center includes computer scientists from Yale, Columbia University, City College of New York (CCNY), and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL); legal and economics experts from Yale; and a professor of behavioral finance from Columbia. CertiK, a company that focuses on blockchain security co-founded by Zhong Shao, the the Thomas L. Kempner Professor of Computer Science and department chair, and Ronghui Gu, a professor of computer science at Columbia University, will also be participant in the center.

“I am thrilled to start working with my talented colleagues from Yale, Columbia, CCNY and EPFL on advancing the objectives of PAVE, Yale’s Algorand Center of Excellence,” Papamanthou said. “PAVE’s distinguishing feature is advancing the foundations of blockchain systems using cryptography, distributed systems, and formal verification, while exploring concrete connections of those foundations to economics and law. We are grateful to the Algorand Foundation for providing support for a 5-year research, education and outreach program, and are looking forward to collaborating with them.”

The team is one of 10 to be named Algorand Centres of Excellence, each aiming to build and run multidisciplinary centers with the goal of advancing research and supporting applied education on blockchain and cryptocurrency. The Algorand Foundation, which promotes blockchain technology and cryptocurrency, announced the winners today. 

“The establishment of PAVE advances our objective to build on our strength in cybersecurity through broad collaborations. It positions Yale’s CS Department as a clear leader in this field,” said SEAS Dean Jeffrey Brock. “The center’s cross-disciplinary approach also establishes CS as a valuable partner for researchers throughout the university.”  

The overall goal of the Yale-led project is a multifaceted approach designed to accelerate the deployment and adoption of blockchain, a decentralized, communally maintained database designed to reliably store digital information. The members of PAVE will work on five areas, bringing together fields that rarely collaborate in the area of blockchain. It’s an approach that will address the complex nature of blockchain. For example, there are legal matters to consider in PAVE’s proposed techniques for privacy deployment. Similarly, the center’s work on proof systems and consensus technology will involve certain economic aspects. The five areas are: 

  1. Blockchain design. Blockchains emerged nearly 15 years ago, but PAVE members say that the research into how they’re created has only scratched the surface. Led by experts in blockchain technology and cryptography, PAVE will develop state-of-the-art blockchain designs and protocols that feature privacy, fairness, and scalability. 
  2. Formal verification of blockchains. To increase the security of blockchain architectures (including Algorand’s), PAVE researchers with programming-language expertise will investigate formal verification (a way to mathematically ensure that a system is behaving as intended) of consensus protocols and smart contracts.
  3. Interplay of blockchains and economics. Led by PAVE researchers in the Columbia Business School, and in collaboration with the Computer Science principal investigators, PAVE will study economic aspects of several foundational components of blockchain systems. 
  4. Interplay of blockchains and law. PAVE investigators that have worked in the interplay of Computer Science and Law will lead center participants in a two-pronged research agenda. They will explore topics such as smart-contract enforcement, liabilities of software developers and consensus participants, and the interplay of privacy and regulation.
  5. Blockchain education, outreach, and broader impacts. As part of the project, the PAVE researchers will develop new courses in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space at all levels of instruction to promote the use of blockchain technology for the benefit of society.

In addition to Papamanthou, the center’s members include, from Yale, Zhong Shao, Joan Feigenbaum, and Ben Fisch; from Columbia University, Tal Malkin, Eran Tromer, and Gur Huberman; Rosario Gennaro from City College of New York (CCNY); and Bryan Ford from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).