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Strategic aspects of blockchain technologies

   School of Computing

  Dr Paolo Serafino  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3-year full-time or 6-year part time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the School of Computing and will be supervised by Dr Paolo Serafino.

The work on this project could involve:

  • Studying (approximate) equilibria arising in Proof of Work and Proof of Stake consensus protocols either theoretically or experimentally (through simulations)
  • Designing novel consensus protocols that are secure, incentive compatible and less energy-consuming than those currently in us

Project description

This project sets out to study the strategic interaction arising in blockchain systems through the lenses of Algorithmic Game Theory.

Blockchain technologies have gained prominence in recent years due to their successful application to cryptocurrencies - the most notable examples being Bitcoin, with an estimated market value of over 1 trillion USD - and are rapidly spreading to other application settings as well, most notably in the sectors of health care, NFTs (non fungible tokens) and voting.

At the heart of it all lies the consensus protocol, which is tasked with both overseeing the addition of new blocks to the distributed blockchain, and maintaining a consistent view of the information stored within it.

Although consensus protocols have been designed with the aim of being secure in a cryptographic sense and from a distributed system design's perspective, some major issues have been overlooked so far. In this project we will address the following: (i) designing protocols with good incentive properties (in a game theoretic sense), and (ii) mitigating the environmental impact deriving from energy-intensive Proof of Work (PoW) protocols.

Incentive compatibility is a crucial desideratum in public permissionless blockchains, as rational miners will arguably not follow the prescribed protocol if they can increase their utility by doing so. This behaviour is highly undesirable, as it has been shown to lead to a significant weakening of the protocol's security guarantees.

Hence we will perform a theoretical and experimental study of equilibrium outcomes emerging from the interaction of miners in currently deployed protocols in order to better understand their inherent vulnerabilities to strategic behaviour, and seek to design potential fixes for these vulnerabilities.

To mitigate the environmental impact of current consensus protocols, novel less energy-demanding protocols will be designed and studied, potentially shifting towards the Proof of Stake paradigm.

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

How to Apply

We encourage you to contact Dr Paolo Serafino () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code below.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Computing PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

When applying please quote project code:COMP5871023

Funding Notes

Self-funded PhD students only.
PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK students only).

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