Bridging Mina with Ethereum: Meet =nil; Foundation

It’s been a really exciting week for everyone involved with the Mina Protocol. The spotlight event on Thursday was full of new information and announcements regarding the future of the project. Possibly the biggest announcement was the news that a $1.2 million grant had been awarded to =nil; Foundation, a development team on a mission to implement a bridge between Mina with Ethereum. But what does that mean exactly? I thought it would be a great idea to find out more, so I spoke to Mikhail Komarov, the CEO of =nil; Foundation. (BTW if you are wondering when you pronounce their name, just remove the = and the 😉

=nil; Foundation

> How many people are in your team? 
This question is actually more complicated than it is expected. Grant recipient is =nil; Crypto3 team of =nil; Foundation, a Foundation’s cryptography-specific team. =nil; Crypto3 has 6 permanent members with up to 10 (maybe even more) folks coming from other Foundation teams when it is required.

> Where are you based?
We’re spread across the continent starting from Basel (Switzerland) and ending up in Russian Far-East. I would even say that there is no single place where we would have even a couple of folks.

> What was your team doing before doing the =nil; Foundation?
Oh. Lots of things actually. The Foundation’s teams were actually formed by people from our earlier projects. Participant’s (and founders) more or less noticeable projects are Golos.io (Russian Steemit version), Satoshi.fund (a co-founder’s previous projects), Cyber.Fund (again, one of the co-founder’s previous projects). All of these projects go back to 2016, some of them to even earlier times (something like 2013). It was fun. No regrets about any of them.

> What impressed you the most about the Mina Protocol project?
We at =nil; Foundation prefer things to be as formal and academic as it is possible. That is why the most impressive thing for us is how elegant Mina Protocol is at formalizing and packing arbitrary (of a limited complexity, but anyway) computations into the relatively simple SNARK proof, using it as a  way to append data to database cluster in the end. A moon math solving the real-world problem. Not without trade-offs, but, again, anyway. This is exciting. We like these kind of problems.

> What do you think is the biggest challenge / most exciting part about bridging Mina to Ethereum?
The biggest challenge is definitely in-EVM Pickles SNARK verification cost. Its reduction desire makes us employ pretty experimental approaches, which are fine in theory, but not that widespread in practice yet.

> Can you explain in simple terms what you are attempting to do with Mina & ETH?
Sure. No secret in that. We intend to make Mina Protocol state accessible and usable for Ethereum-based applications. Financial ones, privacy-oriented ones etc. That would benefit both ecosystems greatly.

> How exactly are you working with the Ethereum Foundation?
Well, both foundations’ work together with advice about solution details, it is of a great value for us. We would’ve spent more time on figuring out dead-ends without their help.

> How will the bridge benefit Ethereum developers?
Relatively simple question. Ethereum currently lacks a solution to pack arbitrary computations into a smaller, proving data structure. Is it scaling which Mina Protocol bridge could provide Ethereum with? Yes. Is it privacy for arbitrary Ethereum database index changes? Yes as well. Are there L2 solutions which provide similar kind of stuff for Ethereum? Yes, but not that generic. So there is a great value anyway such a bridge brings to Ethereum ecosystem.

> How does Mina differ from you other projects you have worked on?
Hm. Things we did with both of the projects mentioned are not only different with what we’re about to do with Mina Protocol, but they are different between each other as well.

Our Filecoin-related ventures were and are mostly about providing post-launch tooling for the community. Faster and more effective tools for storage providers (sealers as they call them). There is also a post-launch Filecoin security enhancement project of ours (by providing alternative Filecoin proofs implementation to avoid network outages)(https://github.com/filecoin-project/rust-fil-proofs/discussions/1418).

Chia-related venture of ours was about providing with the most efficient VDF and ProofOfStorage primitives implementations back in 2019, long before the actual protocol launch, with winning (or taking a second place at) related open competitions (https://github.com/Chia-Network/proofofspaceresults)(https://www.chia.net/2019/07/18/chia-vdf-competition-round-2-results-and-announcements.en.html).

Of what interest do such unrelated at first sight projects are to us? Simple. We do all this kind of things with the Crypto3 cryptography suite of ours (https://github.com/nilfoundation/crypto3). We facilitate projects with valuable enhancements and it allows us to develop our toolset.

A project with MIna Protocol is different from both of these, first of all, because it is more about research than about development. We will probably use our toolset for this project as well, but it is not a crucial part in here. Second of all, it is different because it is not simply about security or faster tooling (even if it is still extremely important though), but it is about providing people with new ways of doing things. Definitely a more exciting thing to do.

> Do you have an approx idea of how long it will take to complete and would you like to be involved in bridging Mina with other blockchains?
Yes. There is not only an idea, but there a pretty particular implementation plan with particular timings. First milestone we’re facing now is providing a very detailed description of Pickles SNARK proof verification mechanism, optimized as much as possible. This is coming in Q4 2021 (Nov 2021 most probably). A full implementation is supposed to be done and launched ’till the end of Q1 2022.

Bridging Mina with other databases – I guess we have no choice now. I think (just my personal opinion here) recent Polygon engagement will probably require some involvement of ours. But, again, it is just me guessing. No statements are present in here.

> Finally, what do you like to do when you are no looking at a computer?
Hah. A good generic question when there is nothing more to ask. Works for me as well. To be honest, there is not much time when I’m not looking at the screen,  I guess I would like to get back to practicing the violin, which I had to abandon when 2020 hit (sucking all the free time out of my schedule). This I remember helped to distract.

For further information on =nil; Foundation visit their website >


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