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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

A New MIT “Alum” by Matt McGann '00

Many fictional characters are MIT alumni; the newest is Jessica Alba's Sue Storm in "Fantastic Four"

On Friday morning, I was reading the New York Times review of the film “Fantastic Four” (it got a “thumbs down”), and one plot point caught my eye:

When Jessica Alba first appears on screen, introduced as Sue Storm, an M.I.T.-trained scientist who specializes in genetic research…

Of course, it’s nothing new for a film or other work of fiction to establish credibility for a character by giving them an MIT degree. Here are some examples of characters who are former MIT students:

  • James Clayton (“non-linear optics,” “top of the class”), Colin Farrell’s secret agent in the film The Recruit
  • Dilbert (electrical engineering), from the eponymous comic strip
  • Benjamin Franklin Gates (mechanical engineering), Nicholas Cage’s treasure hunter in National Treasure
  • Ellie Arroway (“full scholarship,” “Magna Cum Laude”), the SETI researcher in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact (played by Jodie Foster in the film)
  • Taz “Rat” Finch (“top of his class”), DJ Qualls’ computer hacker in the film “The Core”
  • Toby Lee Shavers, Michael Roof’s weapons/gadget guy from the film XXX
  • Rockhound (two doctorates) and Ronald Quincy, respectively Steve Buscemi’s oil-drilling wierdo and Jason Isaac’s US President’s advisor in the film Armageddon
  • Mike Cannon (engineering), James Lesure’s head valet TV show Las Vegas
  • David Levinson (8 years as a student at MIT), Jeff Goldblum’s technician who, along with Will Smith’s character, saves the world in the film Independence Day
  • Gordon Freeman (theoretical physics), the science researcher/protagonist in the video game series Half-Life
  • Sean Maguire (math) and Gerald Lambeau (math), the professors played by Robin Williams and Stellan Skarsgard in the film Good Will Hunting
  • Capt. Harold Barnes (aeronautical engineering), Ted Fielding (three PhDs, first at age 19), and Harry Adams (first PhD, age 18), the characters played by Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Coyote and Liev Schreiber in the film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Sphere
  • Tobias Funke (psycholinguistics), David Cross’ character in the television show Arrested Development
  • Trent Conway, the son/student in the the play Six Degrees of Separation (Anthony Michael Hall’s character in the film)
  • Sam Beckett (graduated in only 2 years), the physicist/leaper in the television show Quantum Leap
  • Ben Chapelski (multiple doctorates), Dian Bachar’s character in the film Orgazmo
  • Cyrus (dropout), Selma Blair’s character in the film “Down to You”
  • Tom Collins (expelled), from the musical Rent

Please add to this list! What am I missing?

15 responses to “A New MIT “Alum””

  1. MITmom says:

    whoa, that’s an impressive list!

  2. Whoa, Dilbert was an MIT grad?

    How did I not know this?

    I was pretty sure I’d read enough Dilbert I should have known that! Where is this revealed?

  3. errhode says:

    It appears that you’ve already consulted the solution to this puzzle:

    But in the course of solving that puzzle, I recall it coming up that Clint Eastwood’s character in Space Cowboys was from MIT. It also comes up in a lot of Kurt Vonnegut books.

  4. Noah Jessop says:

    I second what Nelson said… If I had to guess, perhaps it was from the television series? Pretty cool, though. : )

    PS. Hi Matt!

  5. KHF '78 says:

    Here’s another bit of MIT movie trivia —

    In the 2000 movie “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” the scenes of Bullwinkle’s alma matter, Whassamatta U, were generated from digitally enhanced pictures of MIT. Those scenes showed both 77 Mass Ave and Killian Court with “MASSACHVSETTS INSTITVTE OF TECHNOLOGY” removed, strategically replaced by “WHASSAMATTA U.”

  6. SHABIN says:

    One of the Engineers in the movie `Small Soldiers’ played by David Cross as Irwin Wayfair was, I think, from MIT. I think that he even sported an MIT shirt in the movie (free advertisement!).

    In the movie I revered the discipline and determination displayed by Major Chip Hazard, the Commando Elite leader. I also liked the resourcefulness of the Commando Elite to transform every item in the grasp into a weapon.




    July 11, 2oo5.

  7. Sean Murray as Special Agent Timothy McGee on CBS’s weekly procedural, NCIS. I love the interplay between his character and “Abby”, the goth lab technician, played to perfection by Pauley Perrette (how’s that for some alliteration?).

  8. Laura says:

    Yes! Tobias Funke! I remember watching that episode like right after I was accepted and being like YES MIT! How I love Arrested Development. =)

  9. Kiersten says:


    Is Marshall (from the show “Alias”) a fictional MIT alum? It seems like he should be. I love that show…


  10. Rob says:

    The character Cal in the movie Cutaway is supposed to be an MIT student studying aeroastro, if I remember correctly.

  11. shikhar says:

    Hey wasn’t the character of Russel Crowe in ‘A beautiful Mind’ from MIT too.

  12. Neha says:

    There’s also Angelina Jolie’s character from Hackers…

    But she wasn’t Alumni, she was getting in. I think.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I had no idea about the Rocky and Bullwinkle movie. . . that is so cool! (it’s as if the filmmakers “hacked” the dome from far away!)


  14. Ernest Alba says:

    I dunno if we’d want to take credit for this one, but the “hero” of Crichton’s State of Fear is an MIT professor.