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Academic Grants Round 2023 Announcement

Posted by Rodrigo Vasquez on June 28, 2023

Academic Grants Round 2023 Announcement

We are excited to announce the recipients of this year's Academic Grants Round. We received more than 250 applications and have awarded over $2 million in funding to 43 projects across several categories.

The awarded teams are distributed all across the globe with researchers from Austria, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.

Here are the categories and the number of funded projects in each:

CategoryNumber of ProjectsAmount (USD)
Economics & MEV10$406,097
Execution Layer2$158,200
Formal Verification4$226,000
P2P Networking3$140,023
Society and Regulatory12$438,394


ProjectResearch TeamInstitutionDescription
Error Correcting Codes for Efficient SNARK ProversProf. Venkatesan Guruswami, Mary Maller, Mark Simkin, & Pratyush Ranjan TiwariUniversity of California at Berkeley, Ethereum Foundation, & Johns Hopkins UniversityTo establish a collaborative effort among cryptography experts, aiming to enhance parameter efficiencies, and provide certainty in analysis. This could lead to a working group within the ZKProof standards initiative and explore the feasibility of utilizing the FRI polynomial commitment scheme in future zkEVM implementation on layer 1.
Functional Commitments and SNARKs from Lattices: Constructions and CryptanalysisProf. David WuThe University of Texas at AustinTo develop new lattice-based frameworks for functional commitments and succinct arguments while creating innovative cryptanalytic approaches to evaluate the associated lattice-based assumptions. This project will enable efficient post-quantum protocols for delegating and verifying computations.
Lattice-based succinct linear functional commitmentsProf. Ben Fisch, Zeyu Liu, & Psi VeselyYale UniversityTo construct lattice-based polynomial commitments and SNARKs that compete with the efficiency of code-based schemes like FRI. The main focus of the project is to enhance concrete performance, with preliminary results indicating the first lattice-based PCS with both logarithmic size and verification time asymptotically.
ZK-EVM using SNARK assisted by Interactive Fraud ProofsJehyuk Jang, Soonhyeong Jeong, Dr. Jamie Judd, Seungjin Kim, & Jonghwa ParkOnther Ethereum Research CenterTo develop a new zk-EVM that integrates interactive fraud proofs (IFP) and SNARK proofs for more efficient transaction processing. This approach involves two-stage verification: initially verifying the commitment to a new smart contract with IFP, then verifying arithmetic calculations with SNARK. This proposal aims to reduce the size of the universal circuit for SNARK, thereby minimizing the time and space complexity of generating and verifying transaction proofs.
ZK-HarnessProf. Dawn Song, Prof. Arthur Gervais, Deevashwer Rathee, Stefanos Chaliasos, Jens ErnstbergerUniversity of California at Berkeley, University College London, Imperial College, Technical University of MunichTo propose a benchmarking framework that accommodates new zero-knowledge proof (ZKP) libraries and languages, and to conduct a comprehensive analysis of these benchmarks. This work will aid developers in making informed decisions when choosing a ZKP library or language.

Economics & MEV

ProjectResearch TeamInstitutionDescription
Benchmarking and Analyzing the Gas Metering Mechanism of EVM-equivalent zkRollupsStefanos Chaliasos, Prof. Arthur Gervais, & Prof. Ben LivshitsImperial College LondonTo conduct a comprehensive analysis of Scroll's and Polygon's zkEVM implementations, focusing on the implications of maintaining Ethereum's gas metering mechanism in a zkEVM rollup setup. This study aims to highlight potential issues and security implications associated with this gas metering mechanism, and contribute to the ongoing efforts to provide a zkRollup scalability solution for Ethereum.
Denial-of-Service Implications of Blockchain CensorshipAviv Yaish, Kaihua Qin, Liyi Zhou, & Prof. Arthur GervaisThe Hebrew University, University College London, & Imperial College LondonTo identify and classify potential Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack vectors that could emerge in the presence of censoring blockchain validators. The project will further aim to measure the impact of such attacks on validators' computational resources and revenue. Ultimately, the goal is to develop effective strategies for mitigating these identified threats. This is necessary because censorship on the blockchain can not only affect neutrality but also increase vulnerability to DoS attacks, where attackers can create computationally complex transactions that drain validator resources without paying the requisite transaction fees.
Design of Automated Market Makers from Prediction Market PrinciplesProf. Bo Waggoner & Prof. Rafael FrongilloUniversity of Colorado, BoulderTo apply underexplored technical tools from automated prediction markets to the design and analysis of automated market makers like Uniswap. The project will focus on interfaces for liquidity providers and interpret the supply and demand of liquidity as information about the value of various assets.
EIP-4844 Market and Calldata Posting StrategiesDr. Akaki Mamageishvili & Prof. Ed FeltonOffchain LabsTo investigate the market dynamics following the deployment of Ethereum Improvement Proposal number 4844 (EIP4844), which aims to lower the calldata costs for rollup protocols by creating a parallel market for stored data. This study will focus on how this new market interacts with the existing global blockspace market.
Gift Economies of ScaleRaluca DiuganIndependentTo define, design, and assess the feasibility of gifting-based economies, considered as blockchain-based peer-to-peer networks with incentivized donation protocols. This project aims to explore whether the practice of gifting could form the foundation of robust micro-economies and be scalable through inter-economy protocols.
The Nature of the DAOProf. Sinclair DavidsonRMIT UniversityTo establish a robust theoretical framework that situates Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) within organizational theory. This project, inspired by Ronald Coase's seminal question 'Why do firms exist?', seeks to answer 'Why do DAOs exist?' and aims to provide insights that can guide both practitioners and policymakers.
On the Security of Stake-and-Slash Mechanisms in Layer-2 Scaling SolutionsProf. Jiasun LiIndependentTo analyze the strategic interactions among participants in various Layer-2 scaling solutions using a game-theoretical framework inspired by the classic "monitoring game" in economics. This project will focus on formally evaluating the security performance of widely adopted "stake and slash" mechanisms in these solutions.
Quantifying and Reducing Builder/Searcher/Relay Centralization Risk in the Context of Maximal Extractable ValueDr. Agostino CapponiColumbia UniversityTo assess the threats posed by Miner Extractable Value (MEV) to Ethereum's security and efficiency, this project proposes the utilization of mechanism design and economic analysis. While Priority Gas Auctions (PGAs) address some security concerns, negative impacts of MEV persist and could even lead to new centralization risks. This project aims to systematically evaluate these concerns and provide practical insights.
Validator Economics: Variable minimum validator deposit sizeDr. Sandra Johnson, Prof. Kerrie Mengersen, & Patrick O'CallaghanConsenSys SoftwareTo identify the most effective strategy for capping the validator set size on the Ethereum beacon chain. This research is aimed at ensuring system stability and facilitating the feasibility of single slot finality (SSF), even in situations of potential overpopulation by validators.

Execution Layer

ProjectResearch TeamInstitutionDescription
IL-EVMSzymon KulecNethermindTo explore a new EVM implementation called IL-EVM which leverages the .NET's intermediate language (MSIL) for improved performance. This approach involves precompiling the most commonly used contracts to MSIL, allowing the .NET Just In Time compiler to optimize the code more effectively, thereby improving the speed of the Ethereum node. Preliminary work indicating the potential of this method can be found here.
PaprikaSzymon KulecNethermindTo reimagine Ethereum's data storage methods by leveraging techniques such as copy-on-write, a prefix B+-tree, and memory-mapped files. The project focuses on improving the handling of reorganizations, facilitating efficient data access, and constructing Merkle (or potentially Verkle) tries. This unique approach is driven by Ethereum's distinctive data access patterns and challenges associated with reorganizations. Preliminary results demonstrating the potential of this novel methodology are available here.

Formal Verification

ProjectResearch TeamInstitutionDescription
Financial Model-Driven Attack Synthesis for DeFiProf. Yu Feng, Yanju Chen, & Hongbo WenUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraTo develop a highly effective attack synthesis framework for DeFi protocols that goes beyond the capabilities of existing tools like Foundry and Slither. The project aims to address the limitations of these tools, which struggle with complex interactions and large search spaces in non-trivial DeFi protocols. Rather than constructing the attack from scratch, the new approach will respect the high-level semantics of DeFi protocols and be guided by the financial models underpinning them.
FORVES 2.0: FORmally VErified EVM optimizationS -- leveraging FORVES to inter-block optimizationsProf. Samir Genaim, Prof. Elvira Albert, & Prof. Enrique Martin-MartinComplutense University of MadridTo develop FORVES 2.0, a fully automated context-sensitive verification tool in Coq, designed to check the semantic equivalence of two EVM sequences under a given initial context. This project's objective is to facilitate the verification of cross-block optimizations in Ethereum's Virtual Machine.
GREEN (GREEdy optimizatioN of EVM bytecode)Prof. Elvira Albert, Prof. Pablo Gordillo, Alejando Hernández-Cerezo, Prof. Jesús Correas, Prof. Guillermo Román, & Prof. Alberto RubioComplutense University of MadridTo construct advanced Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) optimization technology by integrating three critical features: optimizing memory/storage usage and identifying inefficient code patterns, deducing inter-block information for EVM sequence optimization, and overcoming SAT/SMT performance limitations for medium-sized EVM instruction sequences. Expected outcomes include a 6% byte-size reduction, 2% gas reduction, and quicker optimization of medium-sized contracts. Furthermore, inefficient memory usage in solc compiler-generated EVM code will be detected and optimized. The result, referred to as the GREEN project, will be a standalone optimization tool that can be integrated into an EVM compiler either fully or in parts.
Real-World Demonstrations of the DafnyEVMDr. David Pearce, Dr. Franck Cassez, Horacio M.A. Quiles, & Joanne FullerConsenSysTo continue the development of DafnyEVM, an executable and formal EVM semantics developed by ConsenSys' Trustworthy Smart Contracts (TSC) Team, and further leverage its deductive verification capabilities for EVM bytecode. DafnyEVM provides an easily understandable representation of EVM semantics that is verified using the Dafny verifier, enabling formal verification of smart contract properties at the bytecode level. This project seeks to enhance DafnyEVM's robustness in reasoning about bytecode, as demonstrated through validation against numerous Ethereum Common Tests.

P2P Networking

ProjectResearch TeamInstitutionDescription
Fast Signature Aggregation Protocol for Single Slot FinalityProf. János Tapolcai, Bence Ladóczki, & Prof. Lajos RónyaiIndependentTo achieve single slot (12 seconds) on-chain Casper finality loops, this project seeks to explore a space-time trade-off in signature aggregation schemes. The study takes into account two key performance metrics: the space occupied by the signatures stored on-chain and the time to reach finality. The proposed two-step solution involves a primary objective of fast finality achievement, potentially at the cost of more space, followed by a secondary objective of generating a smaller, more efficient proof of finality.
Towards Closing the Loop on Ethereum Network DoS Insecurity by Applied Formal MethodsProf. Yuzhe Tang, Jiaqi Chen, Wanning Ding, & Zhihua YangSyracuse UniversityTo address DoS insecurity in Ethereum networks, this project will systematically identify and formally model vulnerable code modules within Ethereum's P2P networking stack. By running model checkers, it aims to verify security or detect violations. Outcomes will include an open-source software toolset and benchmarks of defense code, aimed at bolstering Ethereum networking security and crypto-asset safety.
Discovering DoS Attacks in Peer Discovery Protocols of Ethereum P2P NetworksProf. Kai Li, Shixuan Guan, & Darren LeeSan Diego State UniversityTo systematically test and examine peer discovery protocols and network interfaces in Ethereum execution and consensus clients to discover and fix DoS attacks.


ProjectResearch TeamInstitutionDescription
Dynamic Analysis Framework for EVMProf. Arthur Gervais, Kaihua Qin, Prof. Dawn Song, Zhun Wang, & Zhe YeUniversity College London, Imperial College London, University of California, Berkeley, Tsinghua UniversityTo develop a dynamic analysis framework for Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) transactions, which employs a unique graphical structure and graph traversal techniques to identify contract attacks in real-time. This project aims to improve the analysis, understanding, and mitigation of security vulnerabilities in smart contracts.
Machine Learning Empowered Illicit Smart Contract and Transaction DetectionDr. Daniel Xiapu Luo, Zihao Li, Kunsong Zhao, & Jinan JiangHong Kong Polytechnic UniversityTo propose novel solutions and develop a system capable of detecting malicious smart contracts and transactions on the Ethereum platform. This system will leverage machine learning and program analysis techniques. Furthermore, this system will be used to conduct a large-scale measurement study on malicious activities on Ethereum.
Massively Parallel Smart Contract Fuzzing on GPUsProf. Ooi Beng Chin, Dr. Dumitrel Loghin, Dr. Ho Nhut Minh, Dr. Ta Quang TrungNational University of SingaporeTo develop a lightweight EVM executor implemented on Nvidia GPUs, designed to expedite fuzz-testing and improve code coverage for smart contracts. This project aims to uncover more bugs within the same time budget by making the execution of smart contracts on an instrumented EVM more efficient.
Understanding Cross-chain Bridges: Characteristics and Security ImplicationsProf. Yinquan Zhang, Prof. Jianyu Niu, Prof. Zhiquiang Lin, & Prof. Xiaokuan ZhangSUSTech, Ohio State University, George Mason UniversityTo undertake a comprehensive exploration of cross-chain bridges, focusing specifically on their characteristics and security implications. This project is an initial step towards understanding these bridges better, which are often used for transferring tokens and data across different blockchain networks, but are currently not thoroughly analyzed for their features and security implications.
Understanding the Security Landscape of Proxy-based Smart Contract Upgrades Through the Lens of TransactionsProf. Xiaokuan Zhang, Prof. Zhiqiang Lin, Mengya Zhang, & Preksha ShuklaGeorge Mason University & Ohio State UniversityTo conduct a large-scale empirical analysis of upgradable smart contracts to understand their usage, costs, and security implications in the Ethereum ecosystem. This study will shed light on the current landscape of these smart contracts, which offer a mitigation strategy for vulnerabilities due to their ability to be upgraded.

Society and Regulatory

ProjectResearch TeamInstitutionDescription
Barriers and drivers of blockchain adoption in emerging markets: Large-scale text analysis and survey experiments among African regulators and citizensEliza R Oak, Dr. Emmanuel Joel Aikins Abakah, & Mohammad AbdullahYale, University of Ghana, & UniSZA, MalaysiaTo discern the key drivers and barriers to blockchain adoption across Africa, this project proposes to systematically collate data through digital trace data, surveys, and interviews. By scraping data from social media, news articles, and Google search trends, the project aims to construct a country-level Blockchain Attitudes Adoption Index for all African nations, comparing it with measures of financial sector stability. The research will particularly focus on Ghana as a case study to collect original data, assessing the perceived potential benefits and risks of blockchain from the perspectives of individuals and regulators.
Blockchain Censorship - Quantitative Analysis of Censorship on Public BlockchainsAnton Wharstätter, Prof. Arthur Gervais, Liyi Zhou, Aviv Yaish, Kaihua Qin, Jens Ernstberger, Sebastian Steinhorst, Davor Svetinovic, Nicholas Christin, & Mikołaj BarczentewiczTechnical University of Munich, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Hebrew University, Imperial College London, University College London, Carnegie Mellon University, & University of SurreyTo investigate the implications of blockchain censorship. The research will formalize, quantify, and analyze the security impact of blockchain censorship, by providing a holistic overview of censorship on the consensus layer and application layer, dissecting the quantitative extent of censorship, and investigating the historical transaction confirmation latency on Ethereum.
DAO Model LawDr. Primavera De Filippi, Dr. Morshed Mannan, Silke Elrifai, Fatemah Fannizadeh, Constance Choi, Ori Shimony, & Rick DudleyCOALA (Coalition of Legal Automated Applications)To enhance legal recognition and protections for Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), this project focuses on revising and updating the DAO Model Law v1.0, originally released in 2021. The objective is to address advancements in technology and changes in governance norms over the past two years, as well as to provide necessary additions to support the implementation of the DAO Model Law in various global legal frameworks. This effort builds on previous work that has already influenced DAO legal frameworks in jurisdictions such as Utah and New Hampshire in the United States.
Ethereum as microcredit for financial inclusion in a developing country: Assessing the drivers and barriersDr. Shazim Khalid, & Andrei O.J. KwokMonash UniversityTo understand the experiences, challenges, and opportunities of using Ethereum as a microcredit system in developing countries, specifically Kenya, this research will conduct interviews with key stakeholders. By focusing on user perceptions of Ethereum's reliability and efficacy, the study aims to inform policymakers, financial institutions, and developers about the practical implications of blockchain-based microcredit systems. These insights will facilitate the refinement of the Ethereum ecosystem to better meet the needs of its users, especially in regions that lack access to traditional financial services.
Ethereum Development Unraveled: A Blockchain of CommunicationDr. Silvia Bartolucci, Dr. Giuseppi Destefanis, Dr. Rumanya Neykova, & Dr. Marco UrtuUniversity College London, Brunel University London, & University of CagliariTo assess the security, risks, and robustness of the Ethereum ecosystem, this research proposes an in-depth analysis of the Ethereum developer community and the software complexity of key open-source projects. Leveraging network theory and sentiment analysis, the study aims to (1) understand the dynamics within the Ethereum developer community and software complexity, (2) predict potential internal conflicts and their potential impact on token prices, and (3) develop a user-friendly digital toolkit providing interactive access to and visualization of the gathered data. This toolkit, utilizing comprehensive datasets from Github, will enhance transparency and understanding of Ethereum's open-source projects and development practices for both practitioners and end-users.
Ethereum Postdoctoral Scholar (Legal)Reuben YoungblomMIT DCITo bridge the gap between legal and technical understanding in the context of digital currencies, this grant will establish a postdoctoral research position at MIT's Digital Currency Initiative. This position will host recent law graduates, offering them technical exposure and guidance from both MIT and Stanford Law's Reuben Youngblom. The goal is to equip new legal professionals with a deeper comprehension of the technical nuances in the digital currency landscape, aiding in better regulation and legal practice.
Forking the Economy: An Ethnography of CryptoAnnaliese MilanoLondon School of EconomicsTo address the lack of in-depth academic exploration into the culture of cryptocurrency communities, this project seeks to leverage two years of empirical research to produce an ethnographic study of the Ethereum community and its relationship with the Bitcoin community. Anthropologists, with their expertise in immersive, long-term community studies, are leading this investigation. The primary objectives are to enhance understanding of the social layer of cryptocurrency for better protocol development and to rectify outsiders' misconceptions about these communities' objectives.
Governance archaeology for decentralized communitiesProf. Nathan Schneider, & Prof. Federica CarugatiUniversity of Colorado, BoulderTo facilitate collective governance and inspire institutional learning in the realm of decentralized governance, this project, known as Governance Archaeology, aims to establish a comprehensive global resource of historical governance practices, especially from non-Western contexts. The project will expand upon an existing prototype database to include a broader range of practices, analyze emergent patterns, and make the resource publicly accessible and editable as an open-source tool. Additionally, a workshop will be organized for the Web3 community to optimize their use of this database, thus contributing to more successful and sustainable self-governance strategies.
Legally credible neutrality of EthereumMikołaj BarczentewiczIndependentTo safeguard Ethereum's status as a public, permissionless network, this project aims to explore the legal implications and potential liabilities of network participants, such as validators, particularly in contexts where they have discretionary power. The project is driven by the potential risks that legal accountability could pose to Ethereum's structure and operations. It proposes to conduct in-depth research on how these legal risks can be addressed and to what extent they should inform protocol design and development.
Merging Eastern Cultures to Complete the Missing Puzzle of DAO Socialware.Sujin Keen, twinfin, & Sunghooon JinDAOeast MovementTo bridge the gap between the technology and community trust in DAOs, this research project, named DAOeast, aims to explore 'socialware', the component fostering trusted communities through reciprocal non-contractual relationships. The study will employ a diachronic approach to examine socialware through the lens of 'relation-centric' East Asian philosophy, contemplating the convergence of Western philosophies championing individual freedom and Eastern philosophies emphasizing human connection.
Open-Source Software Development and Community Dynamics: Historical Insights and Ethereum ImplicationsDr. Mariia Petryk & Dr. Jiasun LiIndependentTo gain deeper insights into Ethereum's open-source ecosystem, this project aims to apply data-driven analysis techniques, building on the team's established expertise in open-source software research. The plan is to formally test various hypotheses, drawing from studies conducted on the evolution of other open-source software. The project aspires to uncover patterns pertinent to Ethereum and, by doing so, aims to provide guidance that could steer the long-term development of the Ethereum ecosystem.
The Social Layer: An Ethnography of Ethereum DevelopmentAnn Brody & Dr. Paul Dylan-EnnisIndependentTo understand the dynamics within the Ethereum development community, this project plans to conduct an ethnographic study focused on Ethereum client developers involved in the Shanghai hard fork. The research, utilizing interviews, will explore the developers' perspectives and the ways they navigate community expectations and pressures. The goal is to gain insights into how core Ethereum developers build trust with the broader community and manage 'transparency' throughout the development process of the Shanghai hard fork.

We would like to express our gratitude to all the applicants and congratulate the recipients. We are excited to see the progress of these projects and the positive impact they will have on the Ethereum ecosystem.

For more information about the Ethereum Foundation's Academic Grants program, please visit our website. We look forward to receiving applications for the next round of grants in 2024.

The Ethereum Foundation's Academic Grants program is part of our ongoing commitment to supporting research and development that advances the Ethereum ecosystem. We believe in the power of academic research to drive innovation and are proud to support these projects.

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