Cal cashes in on NFT auction, could high-tech fundraising be the future for higher education?

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Nonfungible tokens or NFTs are dominating the digital world. Whether it's a photo, video, audio file, or artwork, tech experts say each object is one of a kind and cannot be replaced or replicated.

San Jose State University tech expert, Ahmed Banafa breaks it down.

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"The Mona Lisa, for example," he says. "You have millions of copies of it, but there's one original one. And people can exactly know, this is original, this is copy. This is just a digital way of doing it."

Nowadays, people are paying big bucks to collect and own unique digital objects.

At UC Berkeley, the university found a way to cash in on the NFT craze through fundraising.

NFT designer and Cal alum Margaret Valentine was challenged with merging the groundbreaking new technology with groundbreaking research.

"It took me a while to kind of wrap my head around it and kind of understand the significance," she said about the research aspect of the NFT. "But it was such an awesome project to work on."

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The university's first Nobel NFT netted more than $53,000 in an online auction last June.

"The one that we launched was Jim Allison, who did his work at Berkeley and won a Nobel Prize for really coming up with Cancer Immunotherapy. The fourth pillar in cancer treatment," UC Berkeley's Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer Rich Lyons told ABC7 News. "It's like, let's call attention to that work, and if some money comes in at the same time, great!"

Lyons said, what's even more exciting is the NFT sold, showcases Allison's handwritten data. It's what Lyons called a profound discovery that could be part of a worthwhile collection.

"Imagine a collector- just a thought experiment- who says, 'I want to own the NFTs that represent the 10 most important scientific discoveries of my lifetime,'" Lyons said. "It's kind of a cool collection to own."

When it comes to digital objects, ownership is a big deal.

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Behind the money raised at Cal, Valentine explained, "It was a group of Berkeley students that banded together in 24 hours and formed something called a DAO, which is a Decentralized Autonomous Organization."

"And I think that's just like a whole 'nother layer to how cool the whole process was," she continued. "To kind of see this Web3 concept also manifesting itself in that way, and then funneling into this new technology."

Additionally, for any future transactions of that specific NFT, Cal will automatically get a percentage of that profit.

"I think the number's 10% of any future revenue," Lyons shared. "So that's a very interesting element of these NFTs."

"All around, it's a good thing for them," Banafa with SJSU added. "It's protecting and generating revenue."

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Banafa explained NFTs offer another avenue for fundraising and anticipates other universities will follow.

Of course, where there is talk of cryptocurrency, there are still many questions.

"Do you have a good reason to be skeptical of some of what's going on? Yes," Lyons added. "Should you take what's going on seriously? Yes. You have to come to terms with both of those answers."

Lyons said the university is pursuing future NFT auctions.

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