The end of the semester is traditionally known as crunch time with final exam preparation and study sessions. For undergraduate and graduate student participating in the inaugural Virginia Tech Blockchain Challenge, there are some special incentives on the line as they prepare to make their presentations at the finale event on May 9.

At the event, five student teams will be competing for $25,000 in prizes as part of their systems capstone course called Blockchain Technologies, led by Professor Kirk Cameron. This is a culmination of a semester-long blockchain application development competition led by the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and made possible in part through a generous gift from Block.one.

Each team was prompted with one universal charge: Build cutting-edge blockchain applications that provide value to the broader Virginia Tech community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends.

The Virginia Tech Blockchain Challenge finale will begin at 3 p.m. at Haymarket Theatre in Squires Student Center, 290 College Avenue. A panel of experts and entrepreneur panel will be facilitated by Virginia Tech alumna Mary Miller (master of science in information sciences ’85 and a Ph.D. in instructional design ’96), who will serve as one of the four competition judges. The event is open to the public.

Top teams in both the undergraduate and graduate category will receive $7,500 awards with honorable mentions garnering $2,500, respectively. A superlative prize of $750 will be awarded to the team that demonstrated the best social media presence prior to the April 24 submission deadline.

The projects touch on themes ranging from attendance verification and secure campus-based elections to revolutionizing resource sharing. 

The Virginia Tech Blockchain Challenge marks a distinctive chapter in Virginia Tech’s one-year partnership with Block.one, a global leader in blockchain and publisher of the EOSIO blockchain software, who provided an initial $3 million gift to help students build skills in blockchain. This gift has supported the university to deliver a full blockchain offering, including a variety of courses and an undergraduate minor or concentration in blockchain development.

Virginia Tech '04 alumnus Dan Larimer, who serves as Block.one’s chief technology officer, played a pivotal role in the partnership.

Dan Larimer (left) was recently presented with the Outstanding Alumnus Award by Cal Ribbens, department head, at the Department of Computer Science annual banquet.
Dan Larimer (left) was recently presented with the Outstanding Alumnus Award by Cal Ribbens, department head, at the Department of Computer Science annual banquet.

At the computer science department’s recent awards banquet, Larimer was honored with the Outstanding Alumnus Award, which is given to alumni who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in the computing field in their career, in industry, government, or academia. In his presentation of the award, Cal Ribbens, computer science department head, cited Larimer for his leadership in blockchain technologies, and for personally investing his time and support of helping Virginia Tech students build skills in blockchain.

Larimer is currently advising the university on curricula development, and continually participates in live classroom sessions, seminars, and symposia.

Since the Virginia Tech Blockchain Challenge launched in January 2019, Larimer and Block.one team members have been actively mentoring the student teams, including a Blockchain Boot Camp that attracted more than 300 students.

“Block.one is dedicated to creating a more prosperous society by improving the integrity of business interactions, and blockchain is the key driver of this vision,” announced Larimer in May 2018, at the launch of the partnership. “If we are to achieve this goal, it is important to work with a leading institution, such as Virginia Tech, to provide students with the tools to succeed as the technology is developed.”

About a dozen Block.one engineers mentored 25 students in the Blockchain Technologies capstone course and manned a 24-hour message board to support other teams around campus throughout the spring 2019 semester.

“Virginia Tech Blockchain is a valuable and unique opportunity for students to connect with real Block.one engineers and get involved in the blockchain world,” said Jiayi “JW” Wang, a junior majoring in computer science. JW is the female lead on a team of four computer science majors, aptly named JW and the Blockchain Bois.

The Blockchain Bois team will present their final semester capstone project on attendance verification event on May 9th.
JW and the Blockchain Bois team will present their final semester capstone project on attendance verification on May 9.

JW and her teammate Zachary Geier, also a junior, found the Block.one mentoring opportunities invaluable. “Our team has loved hanging out with mentors Zach and Serguei, as they each have unique stories in regards to learning computer science and blockchain. Whenever we had a problem anywhere in our project, our mentors could find someone who specialized in that area,” said Geier.

Being invited to do a live podcast with Everything EOS at the beginning of the challenge was a standout moment for JW and the Blockchain Bois. “When our team walked into the Block.one office two days later, every person commented on the podcast, giving us encouragement and feedback,” said Wang.

Participation in the Virginia Tech Blockchain Challenge has had overlapping positive results for Arjun Choudhry, a computer science graduate student, and his Eco1ogic teammates, including strengthening their TreeHAUS entry in the U.S. Department of Energy 2019 Solar Decathlon Design Competition. The Virginia Tech team garnered two wins, one for their division and the overall grand prize.

“The future impact of this project could revolutionize resource sharing in communities across the globe, starting with shared solar in a proposed multifamily development here in Blacksburg,” said Choudhry.

Team Eco1ogic, from left, Ikechukwu Dimobi, second-year master in electrical engineering student , Arjun Choudhry, a first-year master in computer science, and Zachary Gould, a second-year environmental design and planning Ph.D student.
Team Eco1ogic, from left, Ikechukwu Dimobi, second-year master's in electrical engineering student; Arjun Choudhry, a first-year master's in computer science student; and Zachary Gould, a second-year environmental design and planning Ph.D. student.
Eco1ogic team leveraged their work with the VT Blockchain Challenge to strengthen their treeHAUS entry in the U.S. Department of Energy 2019 Solar Decathlon Design Competition.  The treeHAUS took home both division and overall grand prize awards.
Eco1ogic team leveraged their work with the Virginia Tech Blockchain Challenge to strengthen their TreeHAUS entry in the U.S. Department of Energy 2019 Solar Decathlon Design Competition. TreeHAUS took home both division and overall grand prize awards.

The Eco1ogic team intends to move forward with implementing their prototype with the local construction of Virginia Tech’s TreeHAUS and exploring the possibility of providing the product as software-as-a-service to potential customers in property management.

“My favorite moment working with the Block.one team was when we demonstrated our completed website to them,” said Chandler Jearls, a junior majoring in computer engineering and team captain for HoKieChain. “Getting to show them what we'd built felt really great, because we had built it on their technology. It was a very proud moment for both of us.”

Written by Jenise Jacques