ARTiFACTS: How to Develop a Blockchain-based Research Collaboration Platform

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Here at NIX, we have several projects which deserve your special attention. ARTiFACTS is one of them. Working on this project, we had to deal with science, the protection of intellectual property, and the most advanced technologies. This is the story about how our team helped scientists around the world to conduct research and make scientific discoveries faster and more efficient. First things first.

ARTiFACTS: a secure blockchain platform for scientific research

For a long time, a seemingly insoluble problem existed in the scientific community. On the one hand, it is crucial for scientists to discuss their ideas and have access to materials on the topic. This helps them to be aware of the current state of the research on similar topics from different teams, and not to make the same mistakes that some other teams have already encountered. On the other hand, there is nothing easier than appropriating someone else’s research and presenting the results as your own achievement. ARTiFACTS sought to solve this problem and contacted NIX for help in developing their product.

What is the Research Сollaboration Platform?

The idea behind a research collaboration platform is quite simple: to establish secure data sharing between scientists all over the world in order to prevent misappropriation of the research results. One of the most renowned blockchain-based platforms for researchers, ARTiFACTS, can guarantee the accomplishment of all these principles thanks to the storage and processing of all the materials on the blockchain. 

In order to understand the main goal of the ARTiFACTS, you need to understand how research is published in the world of science. First, you work on an idea for a long time, fill out a lot of grant applications, then probably win some these grants, they finance your subsequent research, you assemble a team, conduct a bunch of research iterations, you have some documents that are useful for your team and potentially for other teams that work in this direction too. However, until the work on your research sees the world and someone refers to it, it can take up to 7 years, whereas science moves forward much faster. ARTiFACTS project helps science, let’s say, keep up with the times. It solves two main problems:

  1. scientists can be sure they will receive recognition much earlier than their work will be published;
  2. they may not be afraid that someone will pass off their research as their own.

Halina, BA Lead for the ARTiFACTS Project at NIX

The ARTiFACTS project stands on three pillars:

  1. Safe sharing of the research to accelerate discovery;
    In the world of academic research, there is a ruling principle that the quicker the research is released, the earlier it becomes useful for the scientific community. The more data is published, the more useful insights other scientists can get for their work, and on the other hand 一 the possibility to repeat someone else’s mistake is mitigated significantly. When researchers are aware of what their colleagues all over the world are doing, they understand the general state of the research field, see where white spots are, and know which aspects are already studied well enough.

  2. Quickly establish proof-of-existence;
    ARTiFACTS helps to protect your original ideas and share them with other researchers by securely registering a ‘digital fingerprint’ (proof-of-existence or PoE) of scientific work (publication, citation, etc.) to their blockchain. Of course, the author always owns and controls the original files.

    ARTiFACTS: a secure blockchain platform for scientific research
    “There is such a thing: when publishing scientific papers, failed studies are never published, but if a person is engaged, for example, in the problem of treating cancer and wants to start some kind of research, he cannot find out anywhere that such a study has already been carried out and it turned out to be a dead end. ARTiFACTS help solve this problem too.

    Halina, BA Lead for the ARTiFACTS Project at NIX”

  3. Get the credit with the break-proof attribution;
    Each person engaged in the research, no matter how significant his contribution is, can ensure provenance by transacting and time stamping his artifacts on the distributed ledger. It’s especially valuable for graduate and PhD students to do routine work within larger research or work on a small part of the bigger tasks.

ARTiFACTS: a secure blockchain platform for scientific research

How it all started over? 

NIX team had a task to develop the world’s first web-based platform for storing, sharing, and reliably protecting the research data. The main goal of the project was to provide scientists around the world with the opportunity to share their idea without fear of losing it.

Until recently, we had known only part of the goals that the customer has and focused on technical solutions that would help to achieve them effectively. However, during a business trip to the ARTiFACTS office, we conducted a detailed analysis, and now we understand that we as a team are involved in something unbelievable. Thanks to ARTiFACTS in the future, perhaps a cure for cancer will be invented! This is a completely different level of involvement.

Halina, BA Lead for the ARTiFACTS Project at NIX

When the client first contacted us, we had to learn more about the industry, pay attention to its peculiarities and working principles. Only then we could start the technical side of our work.

ARTiFACTS: a secure blockchain platform for scientific research

After a thorough analysis of the business domain, the NIX team proposed organizing the data structure in such a way that part of the data was stored inside the system and the other in the blockchain, and at the same time both parts were interconnected. To do so, the guys had to:

  • Implement SSO (Single Sign-On) to give access to all services using only one authentication and authorization point;
  • Apply blockchain concepts such as Proof-of-Existence and Smart Contract services;
  • Work with open source platform without refactoring;
  • Process a huge amount of data and integrate science graphs, such as Microsoft Academic Graph, into the existing system.

The ARTiFACTS project for me personally has been the most interesting project so far: using five databases, pulling patent data from different API, and at the same time saving all this metadata to the blockchain is really cool!

But the fun part is when you peer and analyze the data of these patents. I remember it was fun working with the documents of great scientists, and then you catch bugs because Albert Einstein or Sergey Brin crookedly filled in their data.

Valeriy, BE Software Engineer

The first version of the product was created based on the Ropsten, Ethereum test network. The development team analyzed various options for creating a private blockchain and came to the conclusion that in this case, it would be more efficient to use Hyperledger Sawtooth. To this end, NIX experts have developed a strategy for transferring data from Ropsten to the new private Sawtooth network. And so that the client’s partners could continue to work successfully with the product, the team created a technical guide for them and a set of recommendations.

ARTiFACTS: a secure blockchain platform for scientific research

When you lack challenges in your life, they usually won’t be long in coming. So was the case with this project. It came suddenly, and almost everything was new for me: from the main development language to the mysterious and hype, at that time, blockchain.

Since then, my life has changed dramatically, and the project constantly gave us more and more new challenges. This includes the processing of large volumes of data, which introduced us to the graph database Neo4J; the development of entity identification rules; the deployment of micro (and not quite micro) service architecture on servers (hello, Rancher), and the writing of smart contracts for Ethereum, and the transition to private blockchain Hyperledger Sawtooth.

Many sleepless nights and efforts have already been invested in this project, and it seems to me that this is not in vain.

Alexey, Tech Lead for the ARTiFACTS Project at NIX

In less than a year of work on the project, the NIX team:

  • Worked out specific algorithms for data identification and validation;
  • Updated the platform to better meet business needs and streamlined internal processes;
  • Implemented work with Grafana, an open platform for analytics and monitoring in the project;
  • Deployed project on Rancher – to manage microservices and quick response to possible problems;
  • Implemented Drone, Gitlab, Slack integration – for CI / CD; Sentry, as well as Jira – for quick error detection;
  • Developed a Blockchain broker service that allows the system to be a blockchain agnostic platform.

ARTiFACTS: a secure blockchain platform for scientific research

I joined the project during the second wave of development when most of the systems were fully operational. I remembered that stage very vividly. We were dealing with the coordination and development of new ideas, discussed a lot of details, and at the same time, I got acquainted with the system. I immediately realized that it would not be easy, but very interesting. 

The domain area was completely new to me – scientists and their work, scientific publications, the protection of their data, and much more. The system itself is not quite trivial: it consists of many parts and connections that must be taken into account when implementing a particular functionality. I like that a large stack of technologies is used and various technical solutions are implemented – this allows the project and its participants to grow.

Elizabeth, QA Engineer for the ARTiFACTS Project at NIX

Thanks to the guys’ effort and expertise, scientists from all over the world can now collaborate in real-time, share ideas and gain recognition. In ARTiFACTS, researchers have the opportunity to consolidate the right on their materials by certifying them in the blockchain and increasing the level of trust in them.

Excellent technical skills and full involvement in the project made the NIX team indispensable specialists for the client and allowed her to become involved in creating a unique product designed to bring working conditions for scientists to a whole new level. We are still working with ARTiFACTS on a regular basis, and are very proud to have partners like this. NIX is also open for new projects, so if you have something in mind, reach out today!