​MIT experiment gives $100 in Bitcoin to all undergrads

Curious to see what happens if they create a Bitcoin economy, two MIT students raise $500,000 to distribute among their classmates.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read


A question that begs asking is: how would Bitcoin be used if everyone had it?

This is something two MIT students have been thinking about and now, in an ambitious experiment, they're taking this question to the people.

Dan Elitzer and Jeremy Rubin announced Tuesday that they raised more than $500,000 to be distributed to every undergraduate MIT student this fall. Each of the school's 4,528 students will get $100 worth of Bitcoin. The funding for the project came from MIT alumni and the Bitcoin community.

"Giving students access to cryptocurrencies is analogous to providing them with Internet access at the dawn of the Internet era," Rubin said in a statement. "When the distribution happens this fall, it will make the MIT campus the first place in the world where it will be possible to assume widespread access to Bitcoin."

The goal of the experiment is to see what happens when an ecosystem for digital currencies exists. Elitzer and Rubin will help businesses around campus get set up to accept Bitcoin payments. They'll also study how students use the bitcoins and work to stimulate academic and entrepreneurial activity with the project.

"We want to issue a challenge to some of the brightest technical minds of a generation: 'When you step onto campus this fall, 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?'" Elitzer said.

Bitcoin has been on a years-long roller-coaster ride -- with its value surging and plummeting, regulators applauding and dismissing it, and trading exchanges being created and imploding. Now, the fledgling digital currency is gradually transforming from an obscure idea into a possible payment mechanism.

Just yesterday, Yelp announced it was including which businesses accept Bitcoin in its listings. Giving further status to Bitcoin, cryptocurrency ATMs have begun to pop up, some casinos have said they'd accept digital currency payments, and even eBay has begun allowing for limited sales of bitcoins on its US and UK sites.