Each of the 4,500 undergraduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will receive $100 in Bitcoin this fall.
Two MIT students, Jeremy Rubin and Dan Elitzer, have led the effort to raise $500,000 to create what they describe as a Bitcoin ecosystem.
In addition to giving away the digital currency, the project will study how students use Bitcoin and educate on-campus merchants about the currency.
"Really, it's like the early days of the Internet, where the sky's the limit, and there are so many things that could be built," Rubin told USA TODAY Network.
For example, Rubin said he thinks students could build apps for a decentralized Kickstarter campaign or a decentralized stock exchange. Students could also address how to securely store Bitcoin wallets, he said.
The project will also offer insight into how students use the currency, from the type of Bitcoin wallets they set up to any reports of theft, said Gavin Andresen, chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation, who was not involved in the MIT project.
"Will they save it? Will they spend it? It's really being done as an experiment," Andresen told USA TODAY Network. "I'm a big fan of experimental economics."
The half a million dollars came from 25 donors in the MIT alumni and the Bitcoin communities, Rubin said.
Rubin said he and Elitzer have gotten support from the MIT administration.
Dennis Freeman, MIT's dean for undergraduate education, said the project was helping the university community to "better understand this emerging technology," according to an e-mail to USA TODAY Network.
Rubin said he doesn't know how students will use Bitcoin, but said, "something we build has to be a little more compelling than just cashing out."
Started in 2009, Bitcoin has exceeded $1.5 billion as of the end of August 2013, according to the Bitcoin website.
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