The first decentralized cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was created in 2009 by a developer named Satoshi Nakamoto, which is assumed to be a pseudonym. Over the past decade, cryptocurrencies have taken the world by storm, influencing the way people think about the intersection of society and the economy. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, another popular token, operate on blockchains.
Manmit Singh, a senior in electrical and computer engineering, was introduced to blockchain in his freshman year at Duke after meeting Joey Santoro ’19, a senior in computer science at the time.
Singh quickly discovered that he was not only interested in the promise of blockchain, but also had experience building blockchain applications. As a result, he joined the Duke Blockchain Lab, an on-campus club that, at the time, had no more than fifteen students. Singh, who is now the president of the Duke Blockchain Lab, explained that there are now more than 100 members in the club working on different blockchain-related projects.
Essentially, computers process information, the Internet allows us to communicate information, and blockchain is the next step in the evolution of the digital age. It not only allows computers to communicate value, but also to transfer it in a completely transparent way because every transaction is tracked and a record of that transaction is added to each participant’s ledger, which is visible to others.
The concept and application of blockchain are not intuitive for everyone. People not only have a hard time understanding it, they don’t even know where to start asking questions.
For Singh, a key element to the club’s success was recruiting new members. The crypto space experienced a crash in 2017 that raised a lot of skepticism around an already novel idea, decentralized currency. As a result, it was crucial to educate others about the potential of decentralized finance (DeFi), cryptocurrencies, and of course, blockchain. When recruiting, Singh wanted to bring in technology and business-focused students so they could not only work on building blockchain applications, but also do research on business models and how to drive value within decentralized finance.
in consensus algorithms or how the blockchain makes decisions since it is decentralized, so inherently no one is in control. However, his most ambitious undertaking is the development of his Crypto Fund where people can invest money.
They are also looking to develop a Duke-inspired marketplace with talented Duke artists to sell non-fungible or NFT tokens. If you’re not familiar, Abby Shlesinger, a senior in Art History, created a blog to educate people on what NFTs are.
One of the first projects Singh led involved developing a cryptocurrency-based energy trading “smart contract” on the Ethereum virtual machine, a compute engine that acts as a decentralized computer that can contain millions of executable projects. Smart contracts are programs stored on a blockchain that are executed when predetermined conditions are met.
Additionally, Singh and other members of the Duke Blockchain Lab are working on tokenomics research with Dr. Harvey, a Duke professor who recently published a book together with Santoro titled “DeFi and the Future of Finance” which you can find here.
“Each blockchain is an entire economy that exists on a different plane.”
Within these blockchain economies are several different types of tokens that vary in function and value. Tokenomics explores how these economies work and how they can be used to create value. When asked to compare tokenomic concepts with those of traditional finance, Singh explained that payment tokens are like dollars, asset tokens are like bonds, and security tokens are like shares. Several companies are currently working on creating competitive blockchains that will be cheaper and faster, thus creating a pathway for blockchain to continue to accelerate into the mainstream.
Meanwhile, Santoro, who introduced Singh to blockchain, graduated from Duke in 2019 and formed The Fei Protocol, a stablecoin that, unlike bitcoin, does not change in value. Its protocol raised a billion dollars in several weeks, and while it had some initial challenges, it is now ready to release V2, a second version, soon.
Singh plans to continue working on blockchain applications after graduating this spring and hopes to combine it with his passion for entrepreneurship.