December 20, 2017
University of Toronto Professor Andreas Veneris and his research group in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) are working with a community of tech enthusiasts to encourage users of cryptocurrencies in Toronto to donate to Covenant House, Canada’s largest agency serving homeless and trafficked youth. But these donors won’t be opening their wallets or chequebooks — they’ll be donating cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrencies offer a decentralized digital method of exchange that is enabled by blockchain technology — a mechanism for ensuring information is validated by employing a large network of individual, distributed and independent computers. One such cryptocurrency is ether — the value token of the Ethereum blockchain. This blockchain technology is enabling a unique philanthropic project to benefit the Toronto community.
Professor Veneris and his research group as well as organizations like L4, Blockgeeks and Truebit have linked up to organize what they are calling the Merry Merkle Tree event. They’ve constructed a specialized Christmas tree that will interact with the Etherium blockchain — donations sent to the Merry Merkle Tree project will activate lights on the tree at the Assembly Chef’s Hall in Toronto on Thursday December 21, starting at 7:00 p.m.
“My research is on verification of smart contracts, environmentally-friendly scalability of blockchain and also how blockchain technology impacts our social structure, our privacy and our regulation,” says Professor Veneris. “Blockchain and cryptocurrencies like ether are a really exciting technology for both researchers and enthusiasts, but they are also providing a unique opportunity to give back to our community.”
The group has set an ambitious goal of $25,000 in donations to Covenant House, which would provide meals for nearly 100 youth living in their crisis shelter for an entire month. Members of the Etherium community are encouraged to donate and RSVP for the event. “This is really a unique way of raising important funds for Covenant House,” says Bruce Rivers, Executive Director of Covenant House Toronto. “We are looking forward to seeing the Merkle Tree light up as donations come in to help our cause and youth.”
As for why the cryptography community is branching out this holiday season: “Merkle trees are used in cryptography to assist verifying the transactions in the blockchain,” says Professor Veneris. “In computer science, Merkle trees help solve cryptographic challenges, but in this case, they are helping to solve challenges faced by homeless and trafficked youth — it’s a great way to give back to our community.”
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The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering