The Focus of Blockstream Research
Blockstream Research

The Focus of Blockstream Research

Kiara Bickers
Kiara Bickers

In Bitcoin's early days, research was mostly ad-hoc and performed by technical enthusiasts in forums like Academic cryptographers largely ignored Bitcoin. In the years since then, the two groups have come to intersect. The academic world of cryptography has been inducted into the rapidly evolving world of cryptocurrency—and the industry has matured.

At Blockstream, we are dedicated to building infrastructure for the emerging Bitcoin economy. Our applied research team is a critical component of our innovation strategy, focused on solving complex problems using novel, inventive but conservative mathematics. By proactively researching and developing new ideas, our team continues to drive progress that will contribute to the future of the space.

What is Research?

The blockchain stack can be analyzed at two levels: products and platforms.

  1. Products (coins, wallets, exchanges, and smart contracts) cater to end-users.
  2. Platforms (or scripting languages, blockchains, and signature schemes) cater to developers.

Product development transforms research results into market-ready solutions, while applied research focuses on long-term innovation. Because the development of strong platforms requires extensive design and implementation, platforms are predominantly regarded as fields of research.

The Work

Our team is focused on advancing the platforms at the core of the Bitcoin ecosystem, tackling complex problems, and pushing the boundaries of what's possible. As we work to drive progress at this level of the stack, we are confident that we can expect to see exciting developments emerge in the coming months and years.

Scripting Languages

  • Simplicity - A more robust programming language designed as an alternative to Bitcoin Script.
  • Miniscript - A safer language for writing structured Bitcoin Scripts, by enabling analysis, composition, generic signing, and more.
  • Elements Script - a set of extensions to Bitcoin Script, from ones like CSV which eventually made it into Bitcoin, to new covenant opcodes which are still being explored.

Digital Signatures / Schnorr Signatures

  • Cross Input Signature Aggregation (CISA/XISA) - Enables multiple inputs in a single transaction to share a single signature. This reduces the size of transactions, improving the efficiency of the Bitcoin network.
  • MuSig2 - A solution designed to make Bitcoin multisig transactions more efficient and simultaneously more private. MuSig2 enables a group of “n-of-n” signers to produce a single semi-interactive signature on a given transaction, dramatically improving the privacy of users when creating multisig transactions.
  • ROAST - A simple protocol to avoid denial-of-service attacks in “t-of-n” signing, e.g., in a federation such as Liquid.

Off-Chain Protocols

  • Scriptless Scripts - A solution to enable smart contract execution to take place off-chain, providing benefits such as increased security, privacy, and scalability utilizing the power of Schnorr signatures.
  • Fedimint - A federated e-cash protocol, that enables a network of signers to accept bitcoin with deposits and withdrawals and mint e-cash notes for users, while maintaining privacy at the level of the federation.
  • Codex32 - A project to create, checksum, split and recover secret BIP32 seeds, without the use of electronic computers, for users who are worried about side channels, bugs, or other hard-to-detect ways that computers may cause secrets to be leaked or lost.

Open-Source Contributions

  • Bitcoin Core - A free and open-source software project that serves as the reference implementation of the Bitcoin protocol.
  • rust-bitcoin - A set of Rust libraries for building Bitcoin-related applications.
  • libsecp256k1 - A secure and efficient library for elliptic curve cryptography that is used in Bitcoin Core. It is built specifically for the curve secp256k1 and provides a level of safety, speed, and reliability that outperforms alternatives such as OpenSSL.
  • libsecp256k1-zkp - A fork of libsecp256k1 with support for advanced and experimental features such as Confidential Assets and MuSig2.

The Team

Since 2015, the research team has been actively laying the foundation for future projects. As a result of this dedicated effort, our team has grown to include 10 experienced researchers and contributors.

Andrew Poelstra, Director of Research

  • Andrew Poelstra is a computer science researcher and mathematician from the University of Texas at Austin. He joined the Bitcoin community in 2011 and became known for being the first to start a Rust implementation of Bitcoin, as well as contributing to libsecp256k1. Poelstra has co-invented Bulletproofs, Confidential Assets, Miniscript and Taproot.

Andrew Chow, Core Tech Engineer

  • A Bitcoin Core developer, known for his contributions to the open-source community, including the implementation of BIP 174 (Partially Signed Bitcoin Transaction Format), PSBT implementation, Native Descriptor Wallets in Bitcoin Core.

Dr. Russell O'Connor, Core Tech Engineer

  • Dr. Russell O'Connor is a Core Tech Engineer with a background in mathematics and computer science. He holds a Ph.D. in Science from Radboud University Nijmegen. Dr. O'Connor is best known for his work as the developer and author of "Simplicity: A New Language for Blockchains". The five-plus-year endeavor of Simplicity is expected to launch this year.

Christian Lewe, Core Tech Engineer

  • Christian Lewe holds a Master of Computer Science from TU Dresden. He joined the research scripting team in 2022, and has quickly become a primary contributor to Simplicity. He has also been instrumental in helping to maintain Miniscript. This year, Christian is starting to focus on formal verification and zero-knowledge proofs, two areas that are expected to play a key role in Simplicity.

Sanket Kanjalkar, Cryptographic Engineer

  • Sanket Kanjalkar holds a Masters of Computer Science from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (UIUC). Kanjalkar is a co-inventor of Miniscript and an active contributor to Simplicity, and is also known for his work on "I Can't Believe It's Not Stake!", the largest coordinated disclosure of resource exhaustion vulnerabilities that affected over 26 different cryptocurrencies.

Jonas Nick, Team Lead, Cryptography

  • Jonas Nick is a developer and researcher with a focus on cryptography, he holds a Master's degree in Computer Science from ETH Zürich. In 2022, he became the lead of the Cryptography team inside the Blockstream research. Nick is a maintainer of libsecp256k1, a co-author of BIP 341 (Taproot), BIP 340 (Schnorr Signatures), and BIP MuSig2. Nick is also known for being the creator of nix-bitcoin, a collection of Nix packages and NixOS modules that make it easy to install full-featured Bitcoin nodes with a focus on security.

Dr. Tim Ruffing, Cryptographic Engineer

  • Tim Ruffing is a cryptographer and developer who obtained a doctoral degree from Saarland University researching cryptographic aspects of cryptocurrencies. He is a maintainer of libsecp256k1, a co-author of BIP 340 (Schnorr Signatures), BIP 324 (P2P Encryption), and BIP MuSig2. He is also the author of several bitcoin-focused research papers, most recently inducing “MuSig2: Simple Two-Round Schnorr Multi-signatures” (2021), and “ROAST: Robust Asynchronous Schnorr Threshold Signatures” (2022), which both aim to improve multi-party Schnorr signatures.

Liam Eagen, Cryptographic Engineer

  • Liam Eagen is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, and the most recent addition to the research team. His current focus is on developing Bulletproofs++, a new type of zero-knowledge proof for more efficient confidential assets with shorter range-proofs.

Eric Sirion, Sponsored Researcher

  • Eric Sirion is the creator and lead maintainer of Fedimint. Like many on the team, Eric is a cypherpunk, a computer science researcher with a focus on distributed systems, computer networks and privacy-enhancing technologies.

Kiara Bickers, Research Communicator

  • Kiara Bickers is a self-taught developer who joined the Blockstream Research team in 2022. She is the author of Bitcoin Clarity, a book that simplifies the complex system of bitcoin into mental models that can be easily understood by non-technical readers. As a research communicator, her primary objective is to make research findings accessible and useful for the wider technical audience of Bitcoiners beyond academia.

The Resources

Today, we are excited to announce the Blockstream Research brand, as a tool for connecting with our audience of engaged community members. Many of our initiatives are now reaching maturity and are poised to be adopted by a wider audience. In the coming weeks and months, we will be releasing more regular updates on our progress and the exciting innovations that we have been working on. To stay up-to-date on these developments and the progress of all things Blockstream Research contributes, follow us on official platforms for the team on Twitter @blksresearch and on GitHub.

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