Meet the Humans Building Polygon ZK

Polygon Labs
April 5, 2022
Polygon Solutions
Image source: Dribbble

By now even the casual observers of the blockchain space have taken notice of the zero-knowledge arsenal assembled under one roof at Polygon. But the real insiders know that what makes this portfolio truly remarkable are the individuals working to bring this technology to the world.

We would like to introduce some of the developers behind Polygon’s zero knowledge effort. But instead of focusing on their technical accomplishments, we’d like to talk about how they came to be working in this space. Their personal stories and motivations should be of interest to Polygon stakeholders, aspiring ZK developers and crypto-curious alike. This is what makes the Polygon ZK tick.

Building the Decentralized State

Jordi Baylina, widely considered among the top Solidity developers in the world, has one heck of a resume. Jordi's numerous contributions to Ethereum include the MiniMe token contract and the elliptic curves Solidity library. He co-founded the Giveth donation platform and DAppNode. If that wasn’t enough, Jordi is leading teams that audit the MakerDAO Stable Coin system and Aragon project.

One of the most colorful chapters in Jordi’s storied career involves the White Hat Group, which he co-founded and which played a major role in rescuing funds in TheDAO and Parity Multisig hacks. That’s a story in and of its own, complete with intense Mumble meetings packed with ETH whales, feats of advanced smart contract coding and reverse engineering of the hack, all with millions of dollars at stake.

On Twitter, Jordi also identifies as a Catalonia Freedom fighter and flies the Estelada independence flag in his profile pic background. The events around the 2017 Catalan  self-determination referendum that was blocked by the Spanish government cemented his belief in the importance of decentralization and self sovereign identity. This was the trigger of the foundation of the iden3 project and the development of Circom/SnarkJS ZK privacy toolkit, now the base layer protocols of Polygon ID . “I got fully hooked on the idea of building a decentralized state. To get there, we first need to create solid decentralized networks, and that’s what drives me to build on Ethereum,” Jordi has said.

Jordi now leads technical development of Polygon Hermez, the first-ever decentralized ZK Rollup on the Ethereum mainnet. Hermez is now building a ZK implementation of the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), something that has never been accomplished and the biggest challenge of Jordi’s career, in his own words. You can follow his work on Github.

Read more: Seven Takeaways From Polygon Hermez Fireside Chat

The Hidden Developer

The project lead for Polygon Miden is Bobbin Threadbare, and it’s not his real name. Bobbin prefers to keep his identity private, using a pseudonym from the game Loom. Little is known about his private life, other than that he was born and raised in the former Soviet Union, before moving to the U.S.

What is well known is his contribution to the ZK field. Bobbin has worked on ZK technology with the Ethereum Foundation, where he developed AirScript and AirAssembly, and later with the cryptography research team at Facebook’s Novi, where he built Winterfell. He was the first to release an open-source STARK-prover (genSTARK), and the first practical STARK-based virtual machine (Distaff VM). Bobbin is widely considered one of the biggest experts in STARK technology.

Bobbin got into crypto in the summer of 2018 while running a web startup that was focused on how users can maintain a personal reputation across different services and sites. It was a very centralized product with all the data basically soredon a single server, which prompted Bobbin to consider decentralized alternatives and eventually led him to ZK proofs. 

“I got really interested in zero-knowledge proofs and specifically this general computational integrity proofs, which are SNARKs and STARKs,” Bobbin has said. “It was immediately clear to me that this is something that is really needed in blockchains. The promise is that you can verify computation and then nobody else needs to rerun the computation.

Miden is a STARK-based ZK rollup that promises low fees and very high transaction throughput while maintaining the same level of security as Ethereum. At launch, the rollup will support transactions per second in the 1,000 to 2,000 range, which will reach 20,000 TPS once sharding is deployed on Ethereum. You can follow Bobbin’s work on Github.

Read more: Why Miden VM Will Support 32-Bit Integers

Just Do All This With SNARKs

Polygon Zero (previously Mir) is the latest addition to the Polygon ZK family. The team has been working toward building the world’s fastest ZK scaling technology and has developed Plonky2, a recursive SNARK that is 100x faster than any alternative on Ethereum. Brendan Farmer and Daniel Lubarov are two of the core contributors.

Brendan built tech tools used on national political campaigns before studying pure math and philosophy as an AB Duke Scholar. He became interested in cryptography after the Snowden leaks. He recalls wandering into a Stanford auditorium where Vitalik was presenting the original Plasma paper. During that talk, Stanford Professor Dan Boneh mentioned that SNARKs could power off-chain scaling. “You could just prove state transitions on a blockchain with SNARKs. And that sort of just stuck with me.”

Daniel studied computer science at Harvey Mudd. He was early at Square and worked to build scalable and fault tolerant payment systems, before moving to Google, where he contributed to Glass and Pixel Buds. After Google scrapped the Glass projects, Daniel was on the lookout for interesting projects. That’s when he came across Zcash and ZK proofs. 

“When I heard about how Zcash worked and how it was possible to prove, it was mind blowing,” he said. “To provide this really strong privacy guarantee using advanced cryptography sounded great.”

Brendan and Daniel met at a Zcash conference in 2018, founded Mir the following year and plunged into the deep end of ZK research. When the project was started in 2019, it took 2 minutes to generate a recursive proof that couldn’t be verified on Ethereum. With Plonky2, it takes just 170 milliseconds to do the same on a laptop. And it works natively on Ethereum. 

The Polygon Zero team is building a ZK Layer 2 powered by Plonky2. The core component of this is System Zero, a novel virtual machine that runs inside a STARK and can efficiently verify the execution of compiled Ethereum contracts. Polygon Zero’s goal is to provide the most performant and scalable Layer 2 solution and to help scale Ethereum to support a billion users.

You can follow Brendan on Twitter and Github. Daniel is also active on both Twitter and Github.

Read more: Introducing Plonky2

Polygon’s ZK Thesis

Polygon is so bullish on the future of ZK, the core development team made it a centerpiece of its strategic vision in the Zero Knowledge Thesis published in August. As part of that mission, the team has committed $1 billion, a significant portion of the treasury, to ZK-related efforts.

Over the past year, Polygon has emerged as a ZK powerhouse, assembling an unrivaled collection of R&D efforts under one roof. First was the merger with Hermez Network (now Polygon Hermez) in August. This was followed by the announcements of Polygon Nightfall, a privacy-focused rollup built in collaboration with EY, in September and Polygon Miden in November. A month later, Polygon Zero came into being in a $400 million deal with pioneering ZK startup Mir.

Read more: Polygon’s Zero Knowledge Strategy Explained

Polygon is always on the lookout for new ZK talent. You can browse all the open vacancies here, and also follow our LinkedIn page. Tune in to our blog to keep up with the most exciting experiments in this space.

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