Undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be given US$100 worth of bitcoin when they return to study this autumn, in an attempt to jumpstart a bitcoin ecosystem.
The project is being led by Jeremy Rubin, 19, an undergraduate in his second year at the university, and Daniel Elitzer, an MBA student at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Between them, the pair have raised more than US$500,000, principally from Alexander Morcos, an MIT graduate who works in high-frequency trading in New York.
"We decided to announce this project now to give students lead time," said Elitzer. "We want to issue a challenge to some of the brightest technical minds of a generation: 'When you step on to campus, all of your classmates are going to have access to bitcoin; what are you going to build to give them interesting ways to use it?'
Both Rubin and Elitzer have prior experience with bitcoin. The former is the developer of Tidbit, a project to replace online advertising with bitcoin mining, while the latter is the president and founder of MIT's bitcoin club.
Created in November 2013, Tidbit allows website owners to mine bitcoins on visitors' computers rather than show them adverts. The project ran into difficulty when it was targeted by the New Jersey division of consumer affairs, and Rubin is currently being supported by the EFF, an online-rights charity.
Rubin and Elitzer first met in the fallout of the Tidbit subpoena, and while the concept of the giveaway was initially Rubin's idea, the pair expanded it together. "I am not super involved in the bitcoin community," says Rubin, "but it is one of the subjects which I frequently think about. Dan has many more ties in the community."
Speaking to The Tech, MIT's student newspaper, the university's head of undergraduate education, Dennis Freeman, supported the bitcoin giveaway. "By bringing students and faculty together to inform members of the MIT community about what bitcoin is and to research its use, Rubin and Elitzer are helping everyone to better understand this emerging technology."