Blockchain technologies have captured great excitement in the tech world, not only for their applications to cryptocurrency, but also for their broader ability to support decentralized tracking and coordination. They can be useful for tracking products through the retail supply chain, or for allowing one to own digital goods while remaining anonymous.  

Unfortunately, multiple competing blockchain standards exist, making it difficult to share data across organizations. To remedy this shortcoming, Aspyn Palatnick and Zixuan (ZX) Zhang, who were studying under Penn’s Networked & Social Systems Engineering program, worked on an independent study project with the consulting firm Accenture.

Blockchain, a distributed database system that makes use of cryptographic techniques, provides multiple stakeholders secure access to the same “tokenized” information. A major promise of blockchain is the ability to track and prove the state of an asset at different points in time, without the need for messaging. When multiple blockchains are being used to track what is ultimately the same asset, an interoperability solution is needed to ensure there is a secure and persistent connection and alignment across the various blockchains.

Eager to address this need, Aspyn and ZX partnered with Penn alum David Treat, Accenture’s Global Blockchain Lead, to work on interoperability across blockchain solutions. Aspyn and ZX developed a blockchain interoperability platform, utilizing a trusted intermediary node architecture to facilitate asset transfer between parties. The duo tested the platform on Hyperledger Fabric and JP Morgan’s Quorum, two leading enterprise distributed ledger technology (DLT, a form of blockchain) solutions.

Earlier this year, the joint Accenture-Penn team was granted a patent for Blockchain Interoperability. Accenture has continued building on Aspyn and ZX’s prototype, adding features to make the platform industrial-strength. According to the students, Accenture plans to submit the complete interoperability solution to the Hyperledger Project, which is the largest open-source enterprise blockchain effort, hosted by the Linux Foundation.

This effort represents a promising step forward in the blockchain space, where Penn Engineering is highly active both in research (with a joint initiative with the Wharton School) and in teaching (with a new CIS 233 “Introduction to Blockchain” course). It is also a great example of Penn students working with industry partners to improve the state of open-source software!

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