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How universities can use blockchain to transform research

  • An article by Scott Doughman, Chief Business Officer, Seal Storage Technology

  • Academic institutions across the world are turning to technologies such as blockchain to handle large amounts of research data.

  • Blockchain is a cryptographically-secure storage technology that ensures data integrity for large research projects.

  • Here's why the authenticity and reliability of blockchain technology can be of benefit for research at higher education institutions.



Imagine a scenario where you are a professor at a research university entering the next stage of your research project. Just as you’re about to dive deeper, you find yourself in need of a large data set from last year’s research project.


Confidently, you contact your data storage provider for access, only to be blindsided by an unexpected charge called an egress fee. This was not anticipated nor budgeted for; what do you do? Depending on the size of the data set, egress fees can be prohibitively high.


This dilemma is not unique but a widespread challenge regularly confronting university professors and researchers across the globe. Recognizing these data challenges, academic institutions are starting to turn to new technologies to address them.


One technology gaining traction at universities is blockchain. Blockchain is a form of distributed ledger technology (DLT) that distributes data across a network. The adoption of blockchain technology by academic institutions is increasing due to advances in decentralized storage technologies promising more cost-effective and secure data storage for large research projects.


This exploration is increasingly relevant to address the pressing need to protect critical research data. This approach also highlights the potential to mitigate vulnerabilities and inefficiencies inherent in centralized storage models including the risks of data loss, as well as constraints imposed on restricted access from expensive egress fees.


How blockchain technology can make a difference in higher education


Research universities are increasingly examining blockchain’s potential benefits.

Blockchain, recognized for its ability to provide a secure and efficient method for immutable record-keeping, introduces promising ways for enhancing efficiency, security, and credibility in higher education.


Its distributed ledger technology offers a transformative method for managing and verifying digital information. One major use case is educational credentials.


Blockchain would enhance accessibility for learners, institutions and employers alike. By breaking down geographical and institutional barriers, blockchain ensures that credentials are globally recognized and can be instantly validated by educational entities worldwide.



Educational credentials go hand in hand with the concept of data democratization. Data democratization refers to the ability to share large data sets across institutions and researchers globally.


Using distributed ledger technology, blockchain democratizes access to massive datasets, which facilitates broader participation in scientific research and education.


Beyond credentials and data democratization, implementing blockchain in higher education could also lead to significant cost savings, reducing the reliance on costly centralized systems for credential verification and data management.


By streamlining these processes through blockchain, universities can allocate resources more effectively, potentially lowering administrative costs and making education more affordable for students.


University of Utah’s blockchain solution for global data access


The University of Utah’s Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute (SCI) is pioneering the use of blockchain in academia through its participation in the National Science Data Fabric (NSDF) and National Data Platform (NDP) initiatives, to improve global and equitable access to large scientific datasets including multiple petabytes of NASA climate data.


By leveraging blockchain to enable interactive processing and exploration of massive datasets without extensive local resources, the university is overcoming traditional barriers to data access.


This effort not only broadens the scope of scientific inquiry but also fosters a more inclusive academic environment, showcasing the transformative potential of blockchain in democratizing access to information and promoting collaborative research.


Manish Parashar, Director of SCI, explained how blockchain-based storage enables data democracy: "Through blockchain-based data storage, the University of Utah is advancing data democracy by enhancing secure and decentralized data sharing. This innovation accelerates scientific discoveries and broadens access for diverse researchers, marking a significant step towards open and equitable data ecosystems."


Building on this momentum, the University of Utah is further expanding its technological horizon by investing in a $100 million Responsible AI Initiative. This new endeavour, led by SCI, aims to utilize AI ethically and efficiently to address critical societal challenges, from healthcare to environmental sustainability.


By combining blockchain's capabilities with AI's advanced analytical power, the university is setting a precedent for how technology can be harnessed for good. This strategic direction underscores the university's dedication to leading by example in the responsible use of technology, ensuring that its contributions have a positive impact on society.


“We are encouraged by the potential of blockchain technology through the National Science Data Fabric and National Data Platform initiatives, to exemplify the University of Utah’s leadership and commitment to innovation and inclusivity in research and education,” said Taylor Randall, President of the University of Utah.


“By facilitating unprecedented access to large-scale scientific datasets, we are enhancing the promise of data democracy and AI data integrity to support a global community of researchers.”


MIT's blockchain approach in OpenCourseWare preservation


Another university leading the innovative use of blockchain technology in academia is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is at the forefront of integrating blockchain into education through its Open Learning initiatives.


Specifically, MIT's OpenCourseWare, recognized for providing free online access to course materials from more than 2,500 courses, has embraced blockchain-powered storage solutions. This approach is focused on cataloguing and preserving educational content, ensuring its long-term availability and integrity.


By leveraging blockchain technology, MIT guarantees that these invaluable educational resources remain accessible globally and unaltered over time, marking a significant step towards the democratization and protection of educational data.


This not only broadens educational opportunities for learners globally, but also protects the authenticity and durability of academic resources today.


Blockchain’s role in empowering scientific discovery


For research universities, blockchain adoption is driven by the need for enhanced security, improved data integrity, and the facilitation of easier sharing and collaboration across institutions.


Because of its decentralized nature, blockchain offers an immutable record of data transactions, ensuring that once information is recorded, it cannot be altered or tampered with.


This is particularly advantageous for scientific research, where the authenticity and reliability of data are paramount. Moreover, blockchain-powered data storage systems enable researchers to maintain control over their data while allowing for transparent and verifiable access to data for peer review and collaborative studies.


These use cases demonstrate that blockchain technology is not only proving to be a secure and efficient means of data storage but also creating a more inclusive and collaborative research ecosystem, where knowledge is shared freely and research is nurtured collectively.


With its promise of enhanced security, accessibility, and data integrity, blockchain technology is setting a new standard for academic research and higher education is more interconnected than ever.


By adopting blockchain-powered storage solutions, universities can lead the way towards a more secure, inclusive and collaborative future for academic research and education.


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