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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Principal lecturer: 
MPhil ACS, Part III
Lent term
Course code: 
Students are expected to be familiar with the material in typical undergraduate distributed systems courses, i.e. basic concepts of computer networking & operating systems, distributed systems, concurrency, cryptography, security, and performance analysis
Class limit: 


This reading group course examines foundations and current research into distributed ledger (blockchain) technologies and their applications. Students will read, review, and present seminal research papers in this area. Once completed, students should be able to integrate blockchain technologies into their own research and gain familiarity with a range of research skills.


  1. Introduction
  2. Consensus protocols
  3. Bitcoin and its variants
  4. Ethereum, smart contracts, and other permissionless DLTs
  5. Hybrid and permissioned DLTs
  6. Applications

The final format of the course will depend on the enrolment. Each week, three or four class participants will critically introduce papers using 15-20 minute conference-style presentations. Each presentation will be followed by about 10 minutes of questions, then a guided discussion by all present. Slides will be used for presentation.

Students will give one or more presentations each term, depending on the number of class participants. Each student will also submit a paper review each week for one of the three papers presented except for the week they will be making their own presentation. Each review will follow a template and be up to 1,000 words. As a result, each student will produce 6-7 reviews and at least one presentation, potentially two, depending on the number of participants. All participants are expected to attend and participate in every class; the instructor must be notified of any absences in advance.

Learning objectives

There are two broad objectives: to acquire familiarity with a body of work in the area of distributed ledgers and to learn some specific research skills:

  1. How to read a paper
  2. How to review a paper
  3. How to analyze a paper’s strengths and weaknesses
  4. Written and oral presentation skills


You are expected to read all assigned papers and submit a paper review each week. Each review must either follow the provided review form [PDF] [Latex source] or may be a PDF copy of your presentation slide deck for those papers you are asked to present. Each “review” is worth 10% of your total mark, and is marked out of 100 with 60 a passing grade. Marks will be awarded and penalties for late submission applied according to ACS Assessment Guidelines. No extra marks are available for submitting more than one review in any week.

  • One paper review per week for 6 or 7 weeks, depending on enrolment (10% each)
  • Presentation (10% or 20%)
  • Participation in class over the term (20%)

Recommended Reading

Narayanan, A. , Bonneau, J., Felten, E., Miller, A. and Goldfeder, S. (2016). Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies: A Comprehensive Introduction. Princeton University Press.
(2016 Draft available here:

Further Information

Due to COVID-19, the method of teaching for this module will be adjusted to cater for physical distancing and students who are working remotely. We will confirm precisely how the module will be taught closer to the start of term.