The MIT COOP is the first major university bookstore to accept bitcoin payments. Photo: Dan Elitzer
The MIT COOP is the first major university bookstore to accept bitcoin payments. Photo: Dan Elitzer

In November MIT undergraduates who signed up for the MIT Bitcoin Project each received the equivalent of $100 in the cryptocurrency. Now that they have it, what are they doing with it?

Students Jeremy Rubin and Dan Elitzer launched the initiative in April 2014, raising $500,000 in alumni donations to fund the project. The pair hopes to create a bitcoin ecosystem at MIT that encourages students to develop innovative ways to use the currency. The Bitcoin Project has also partnered with Institute researchers and professors to study how students use their bitcoins and measure growth in the bitcoin ecosystem at MIT.

Bitcoin is an open-source, global payment network that enables peer-to-peer transfers with either no fees or very small processing fees. It operates without the backing of a bank or government; the currency’s value rises and falls according to supply and demand, while the issuance of new units is determined by complicated mathematical formulas.

MIT students are experimenting with Bitcoin on “a campus where the diffusion of digital currencies will be years ahead of anywhere else,” says Sloan professor Christian Catalini.

According to New Scientist, takeout food is proving to be a popular way for students to spend their funds. In anticipation of the MIT project, a number of merchants near campus have enabled bitcoin payment—including the MIT COOP, the first major university bookstore to accept bitcoin. Some students, however, are opting to hold on to their coins for now, seeing them as an investment.

Among the students developing applications that utilize bitcoin is Aeronautics and Astronautics student Sam Udotong. His app, called Fireflies, allows community members to exchange bitcoins for errands. Udotong won the Awesome Award during the project’s Summer Startup Competition and believes Fireflies will gain popularity. As he explained in his contest application, Udotong plans to spend his $100 on having other students fetch him candy and ice cream from the student center: “I always crave those two things, but I never want to go get them.”

Easy access to snacks may not sound revolutionary, but MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Christian Catalini sees great potential for the Bitcoin Project. He compares it to MIT’s Athena project, which gave students access to computing resources in the early 1980s before the internet was widely available. Catalini wrote for xconomy.com about his hopes for the project, in which he is involved as researcher, noting, “This offers a unique experience for the most inventive and entrepreneurial students at MIT, as they will have a chance to experiment and test their ideas within a campus where the diffusion of digital currencies will be years ahead of anywhere else.”

Stay up-to-date on the MIT Bitcoin Project by visiting its website.

For even more news about bitcoin activities at MIT, visit the MIT Bitcoin Club’s website, or follow the club on Facebook and Twitter.

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