UC Berkeley’s Blockchain Lab received a donation Wednesday worth more than $50,000 in the form of bitcoin, a prominent virtual currency and worldwide payment system. The electronic donation, gifted by the EchoLink Foundation, is the first of its kind at both the Blockchain Lab and on campus.
Bitcoin can be electronically sent anywhere in the world and is run by a decentralized network of computers that keep track of all transactions, preventing them from being altered or hacked. Bitcoin is based on blockchain technology, a data structure that protects digital ledgers using cryptology. The network was launched in 2009 by an anonymous creator known by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto in response to the 2008 financial crisis, according to Zubin Koticha, head of the cryptoeconomics research team for the student organization Blockchain at Berkeley.
“Fundamentally, blockchain technology … is a database … controlled by no one and owned by no one,” said Koticha.
Steve Chen, founder of the EchoLink Foundation, said he pitched the idea of a blockchain research lab to the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology to offer students a single point of entry into the blockchain industry, as well as to sponsor blockchain research projects.
Chen said once the Blockchain Lab was approved, he was invited to serve as the lab industry co-lead. Since opening, the lab has offered students a two-day course on blockchain technology and bitcoin transactions, and it plans to expand its range of activities and invite industry affiliates to participate in projects.
“We feel it’s perfect for actually giving back to the community and contributing to the overall development of the industry,” Chen said regarding EchoLink’s donation.
Chen added that blockchain technology is a “promising area” that goes beyond solely serving the financial industry, emphasizing its potential to verify employment and educational history, as well as to notarize legal documents.
Koticha said the significance of the bitcoin donation lies in its underlying message rather than in its monetary value, given that bitcoin has previously been associated with the “dark web” and illegal online transactions. He added that this message can help redress the skepticism some have towards bitcoin and legitimize its use for individual and enterprise transactions.
Sunny Aggarwal, co-founder of Blockchain at Berkeley, said bitcoin transactions are not only a way of providing decentralized money the government is unable to censor, but they are also a means of allowing anyone to partake in the worldwide economy.
“More people in the world have access to cellphones than to bank accounts,” Aggarwal said. “Bitcoin has the ability to change how global economics work.”