UC Berkeley sells first Nobel Prize-based NFT for more than $54K

Photo of Berkeley NFTs
UC Berkeley/Courtesy
UC Berkeley auctioned a research-based nonfungible token to a group of 31 alumni. The proceeds will go toward education and fund further research on campus.

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UC Berkeley successfully sold “The Fourth Pillar,” the first nonfungible token, or NFT, based on Nobel Prize-winning research for $54,360 at an auction Tuesday.

The winning bidders, a group referred to as FiatLuxDAO, is a decentralized, autonomous organization, composed of more than 30 campus alumni organized by Medha Kothari and Justine Humenansky, campus alumni. Campus will retain $50,000 of the funds raised and use them to support future research, according to a Berkeley News article.

“We are incredibly proud to own the first Nobel NFT,” Humenansky said in an email. “Not only do we feel enormous school pride in how Berkeley is leading the way with continued cutting edge innovation, being Berkeley alum, but we also think this is an incredibly unique asset which will only grow in value.”

Humenansky and Kothari also contributed to the group that originally minted the NFT. Rich Lyons, campus’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer, and Mike Cohen, campus director of innovation ecosystem development, invited them to work on the project because of their previous involvement in Blockchain at Berkeley during their time on campus, according to Kothari.

Kothari said following their participation, they then had the idea to bid on the NFT. They worked to organize FiatLuxDAO in less than 24 hours and pooled enough funds to win the auction, which was extended twice due to last-minute bids.

“It was a super cool opportunity to be kind of the first institution to be taking historical research and innovations into the NFT space,” said campus alumna Margaret Valentine, who designed the NFT. “Berkeley, I think, is just always putting a lot of energy and effort into innovation and embracing happenings in the tech world, and kind of marrying the historical, physical piece of research into this innovative, emerging technology was awesome.”

Valentine designed the NFT as a collage based on James Allison’s research at UC Berkeley in the 1990s. Allison’s findings led to immunotherapy becoming the “fourth pillar” of cancer treatment, the other pillars including radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, according to a Berkeley News article.

Kothari noted that campus, a 153-year-old institution, had to work quickly, “like a startup,” to utilize blockchain, the database onto which NFTs are printed, and mint the NFT. The process took three weeks, beginning with Lyons and Cohen’s idea to create an NFT and ending with the auction.

“We chose this research innovation because it was developed at UC Berkeley, and has saved the lives of many cancer survivors,” Cohen said in an email. “Allison liked the NFT idea because it further spotlights the groundbreaking cancer immunotherapy research, and funds continued research at UC Berkeley.”

Contact Emma Taila at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila