The Rise of University Blockchain Labs


     As the cryptocurrency industry matures and the public interest rises, blockchain research and education efforts have entered the halls of some of the world's leading universities. Courses on cryptocurrency finance, blockchain development, and related laws are developing into serious avenues of study. They are academia’s response to the first entry of a previously stigmatized space into mainstream culture, a formal and recognized extension of the work of the innovators and leaders who drive the space’s still relatively underground.

     Complementing classroom teaching, university-led blockchain R&D initiatives are emerging, with teams of professors, blockchain developers, and students working to move the industry from market speculation to mainstream adoption.

   Many prominent university-sponsored blockchain development labs and teaching courses, such as the MIT Media Lab's Digital Currency Initiative, unite some of the field's leading independent developers with MIT faculty to Scale the development of applications such as the Lightning Network.

     Heading into mid-2018, some of the world's top universities are joining MIT and reviewing their own programs. Stanford University’s one-month-old blockchain R&D lab is structurally new, but not new to the field, and its launch was a bit rushed. Co-directors Dan Boneh and David Mazières have three years of blockchain-focused research and academic papers to launch the lab. Both directors are computer science professors at Stanford University who have been teaching courses on blockchain technology since 2015.

     As these labs begin to operate in an academic setting, these professors can take on the work they do in the classroom and work toward real development. At the intersection of education and innovation, these R&D efforts demonstrate the industry's growth potential and needs—and the vast talent pool that can nourish it.

     They also show us that market capitalization and investor returns alone may not be enough to measure whether an emerging industry is growing. The labs don't pay for themselves; they leverage the wallets of some of the most prominent entities in the space, including the Ethereum Foundation and Ripple. Despite a steady decline in market prices this year from their all-time highs, these big players are still investing heavily in research and development to fuel the future growth and health of the field.

     Together, these funds and the labs they support create the infrastructure to propel blockchain development into a new era of mainstream adoption.