Superhero U

In a workshop stuffed with robotic limbs and a number of other costly vehicles, the clanging of a hammer rings out over the blasting sounds of AC/DC. Amid the clamor, a person with a glowing arc reactor in his chest is tough at work with assist from J.A.R.V.I.S., an AI program of his personal creation. On the person’s proper hand shines a golden brass rat.

Tony Stark, higher often called Iron Man, is maybe essentially the most iconic consultant of MIT in Marvel comics and films. In Iron Man’s first look, in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963), the millionaire inventor of high-end weapons and CEO of Stark Industries is kidnapped by a warlord who desires him to construct a superweapon. After crafting an armored robotic swimsuit as an alternative—a swimsuit that enables him to flee his captors—he realizes the hurt his firm is inflicting. So Stark finally shifts his focus to extra humanitarian tasks and embraces the persona of a tech-assisted superhero.

The brass rat Stark wears within the 2008 film Iron Man isn’t any coincidence. Readers of the 1996 comedian Iron Man: The Legend be taught that he graduated from MIT at 17 with a double main in physics and engineering—a powerful however not fully beyond-the-realm-of-possibility feat at MIT in actual life. (His standing as valedictorian and summa cum laude graduate, nevertheless, is after all pure fiction; the true MIT doesn’t bestow these honors.) 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) packs in a number of further references to Stark’s MIT training. In Iron Man, a montage exhibits Stark on the duvet of MIT Expertise Evaluate as a pupil, and the Institute calls on him to present a graduation speech; in Captain America: Civil Struggle, Stark establishes the September Basis, which funds the training of prodigies, in an MIT auditorium that appears so much like Kresge. He additionally meets his finest pal, James Rhodes, at MIT; each are seen carrying the enduring MIT rings often called brass rats in Iron Man. It’s doubtless that Marvel’s writers gave Stark an MIT backstory to make his creation of such a complicated full-body robotic swimsuit appear believable, since such expertise is as but unachievable in the true world.

How did MIT come to represent technological genius? Whereas it could appear unusual to ask such a query, the Institute wasn’t all the time as well-known as it’s at the moment. “Scientists, engineers, and industrial leaders after all knew of MIT, however widespread public consideration actually accelerated within the mid-20th century,” says Deborah Douglas, director of collections and curator of science and expertise on the MIT Museum. Doc Edgerton’s well-known high-speed photographs, MIT’s function within the improvement of radar throughout World Struggle II, and the Instrumentation Lab’s contributions to the Apollo house program within the 1960s raised the Institute’s public profile, as did WGBH’s tv collection MIT Science Reporter within the late 1960s and early 1970s. Then media protection of the MIT Daedalus Undertaking, which in 1988 re-created the legendary flight of Daedalus by flying a human-powered plane between the islands of Crete and Santorini, “started to create consciousness that prolonged properly past the Boston Globe or the standard publications,” she says. “MIT had by no means acquired that form of public consideration, and it vaulted the Institute right into a stage of public recognition globally that it had by no means recognized earlier than.” 

MIT has become a pop-culture icon. “It’s a kind of shorthand. The writer doesn’t have to go to great lengths to prove that this character is smart or knows something about science.”
-Deborah Douglas

As MIT has develop into extra extensively recognized, it has additionally develop into a pop-culture icon. “It’s a form of shorthand,” Douglas says. “The author doesn’t need to go to nice lengths to show that this character is wise or is aware of one thing about science, prone to boring the viewers.” Marvel specifically makes use of this MIT shorthand to make fantastical expertise, equivalent to arc reactors and robotic fits that give their wearers the power to fly, appear plausible. Having an MIT genius behind these creations is a straightforward option to clarify the unexplained. That’s notably helpful for comedian guide writers, who must say so much in a couple of phrases to depart loads of room for illustrations.  

The comfort of the “MIT = genius” trope—and the recognition of Iron Man—led Marvel to create two different MIT heroes with robotic fits who not too long ago made appearances on the silver display.

Shortly after being unmasked as Spider-Man and accused of murdering Mysterio, Peter Parker swings right into a espresso store, a bit of mail clutched tightly in his hand, to search out his pals MJ Watson and Ned Leeds to allow them to all open their letters from MIT Admissions collectively. Their anticipation fades as they learn, “In mild of current controversy, we’re unable to contemplate your software at the moment.” 

In Spider-Man: No Manner Residence (2021), Parker—a.okay.a. Spider-Man—was assured that, having been mentored by Tony Stark, he had shot of entering into MIT. With entry to Stark’s assets, Parker had gone from utilizing home made net shooters to designing a swimsuit enhanced by nanotechnology. And he definitely had the educational credentials, having attended the extremely aggressive (fictional) Midtown College of Science and Expertise and developed his expertise as Spider-Man. So when he isn’t accepted, Parker launches a campaign to have MIT Admissions rethink. The film’s plot aligns with the truth that MIT doesn’t take into account a pupil’s connections or legacy standing in admissions selections. As Chris Peterson, SM ’13, of the MIT Admissions Workplace defined in a 2012 weblog submit, “There is just one method into (and out of) MIT, and that’s the laborious method.” 

Composite Image of movie stills in comic format. First panel: In Iron Man, a young Tony Stark appears on the cover of MIT Technology Review (right) and can be seen sporting a brass rat (left). Years later, he makes a major announcement from an MIT stage in Captain America: Civil War.
Second panel: On Pi Day 2017, MIT Admissions released a student-made film starring Ayomide Fatunde ’18, a chemical engineering major, as Riri Williams, a.k.a. Ironheart. Third panel : In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Riri Williams resists Shuri’s invitation to Wakanda in her Simmons Hall dorm room. Fourth: In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Peter Parker’s high school tormentor Eugene “Flash” Thompson bluffs his way into MIT. Fifth panel: N’Jadaka, a.k.a. Erik Stevens, a.k.a. Erik Killmonger (shown here with Tony Stark), has a PhD in engineering and an MBA from MIT, where he eventually teaches. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine (inset), earned a master’s in aerospace engineering from MIT.


One other Iron Man protégé didn’t attempt to use the superhero’s assist to get into MIT as a result of she had already been a pupil there earlier than assembly him. In Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3, #7 (2016), 15-year-old Riri Williams works late into the night time in Simmons Corridor, making a reproduction of the Iron Man swimsuit. A lot to the dismay of campus safety, Riri helps herself to property from a robotics lab, skips courses, and attracts a number of noise complaints for her work. To keep away from repercussions, she flies off in her swimsuit, meets Iron Man, and earns the moniker Ironheart. In actual life, Marvel organized to briefly shut Massachusetts Avenue in 2021 to movie a number of scenes—together with some with Riri—for Black Panther: Wakanda Perpetually. The character is slated to have her personal present on Disney+, however the timing of its launch is unsure, given the strikes in Hollywood.

In between Tony Stark and Riri Williams, one other set of MIT college students additionally made a quick look within the Marvel universe.

One late autumn night time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the MIT chairman’s workplace is abuzz with exercise. It’s not occupied by its proprietor, however as an alternative by a bunch of scholars and a half-assembled tractor. Regardless of their precautions to keep away from the night time watchman, their professor catches the hackers mid-prank—and distracts the approaching chairman in order that they’ll flee on the ledges of the constructing’s exterior.

Almost 20 years after Iron Man’s debut within the comics however lengthy earlier than he confirmed up on the silver display as an MIT alum, MIT figured prominently in one other Marvel collection. Spitfire and the Troubleshooters, a short-lived 1980s title, introduces readers to a motley crew of 5 MIT undergraduates and their structural engineering professor, Jennifer Swensen. The scholars, often called the Troubleshooters, help Swensen in her quest to rescue the robotic “Spitfire” swimsuit that her father invented to assist development staff—earlier than it turns into militarized by her father’s assassin. To do that, the Troubleshooters draw upon their hacking expertise, which they’d beforehand honed to assemble that tractor and later to sabotage the opposing crew staff throughout an MIT-Yale race. 

The hacking hijinks chronicled in Spitfire and the Troubleshooters had been impressed by creator Eliot R. Brown’s journeys to MIT to go to a pupil who’d been his childhood pal. Throughout these visits, they “would run round on the rooftops” and “break into rooms and swipe ladders and climb up the edges of buildings,” Brown advised the comics journal Again Concern! in 2009. Along with depicting the MIT campus, Brown and his coauthors aimed to current a extra lifelike model of the entire robotic-suit thought. “It was greater than ‘Iron Lady’—it was a special technological perspective, extra reality-based. Iron Man was not unreal, however Iron Man as an idea did an excessive amount of,” Brown defined within the Again Concern! interview. “I attempted to do one thing that was extra of a rubbish can with legs and mind in it, one thing extra mechanical.” Whereas Brown’s depiction of MIT characters and their exploits was comparatively true to life, a few of the Troubleshooters’ actions violate two of the hacking ideas listed in MIT’s Thoughts and Hand Guide: depart no harm and don’t steal something. However then once more, not all MIT characters within the Marvel Universe have the world’s finest pursuits at coronary heart.

Inside a darkened MIT lab house with a “RESTRICTED” signal on the door, a pupil is filling chalkboards with advanced equations impressed by his classroom lectures. A professor enters the room, outraged at this pupil’s unauthorized presence. However the ingenious calculations on the wall draw him to halt and lead him to supply the coed, Otto Octavius, a analysis alternative along with his lab. 

Stories like those of Iron Man, Riri, and the Troubleshooters counter­balance what can be the unglamorous reality of working to advance knowledge and educate students.

Readers of the Spider-Man/Physician Octopus: 12 months 1 comedian collection be taught that Octavius performed in depth nuclear analysis whereas an undergraduate at MIT, simply as MIT’s Undergraduate Analysis Alternatives Program (UROP) lets undergrads work on significant analysis in actual life. Octavius’s work is funded partially by the federal government and offers him an accelerated monitor to a doctorate. However when one in every of his experiments goes awry, Octavius’s thoughts is warped, and he good points 4 robotic arms that help in his new lifetime of crime because the evil Physician Octopus (or Doc Ock for brief).

A number of different Marvel villains even have MIT credentials. In Iron Man Vol. 3 (1999), readers discover out that Sundown Bain (Madame Menace) attended MIT concurrently Stark. Unhealthy guys Quentin Beck (a.okay.a. Mysterio) and Dr. Jonathan Ohnn (a.okay.a. the Spot, as a result of he can teleport by way of spots on his physique) are famous to have been roommates at MIT in Symbiote Spider-Man Vol. 1, #1. In an alternate universe within the Disney+ present What If … ?, Tony Stark’s pal Rhodey does a background examine into Erik Stevens (the villain often called Killmonger) and finds out that he attended MIT. 

Like most MIT alumni, these villains have a knack for science and engineering. Mysterio makes use of chemistry to develop convincing particular results for evil functions, Killmonger leverages his in depth data of weaponry, and Doc Ock wields his robotic arms to wreak havoc on New York, usually making an attempt to steal analysis tools. Since they use their technical expertise for evil, it might appear that Marvel villains flout a core tenet of the MIT values assertion: “Collectively we possess unusual strengths, and we shoulder the accountability to make use of them with knowledge and look after humanity and the pure world.”

Images from classic Marvel comics in a composite comic format. First row: Spitfire and the Troubleshooters follows an armor-clad Professor Jenny Swensen and her brilliant MIT students as they battle a mysterious terrorist organization. The first issue kicks off with a hack. Second row: Two of Spider-Man’s archenemies, Mysterio (above) and the Spot (inset), were roommates at MIT. Third row: Before becoming the villainous Doctor Octopus, Otto Octavius graduated from MIT and embarked upon a promising career in nuclear research. Known as Madame Menace, Sunset Bain (right) is an underworld arms dealer and MIT alumna.


Not all these evil characters with MIT backstories are doomed to a lifetime of villainy, although. In a single story arc from 2013, Octavius switches minds with Peter Parker to flee his imminent demise from most cancers. However with the dying want of Parker, Octavius adopts a brand new id as Superior Spider-Man. On this second likelihood at life, he founds Parker Industries, a conglomerate whose work contains growing cybernetic prosthetics and biomedical gadgets, and finds a girlfriend, Anna Maria Marconi. Lengthy after Octavius relinquishes Parker’s physique to its unique host to save lots of Marconi, she asks Parker if Octavius was “ man who did unhealthy issues, a nasty man who did good issues, or a little bit of each.” Advanced and nuanced characters like this present that even these with a monitor file of evil have the potential to alter their methods and contribute to the world.

Marvel’s typically excessive variations of MIT college students make for partaking, and infrequently inspiring, tales. And the Institute’s outstanding function within the Marvel Cinematic Universe has clearly evoked satisfaction within the MIT neighborhood. In 2019, college students adorned the Foyer 10 dome with the Captain America protect when Avengers: Endgame hit the theaters. And in 2022, they raised Wakanda Perpetually banners above the doorway at 77 Mass. Ave. to mark the discharge of the Black Panther sequel. Riri Williams, who seems on murals round campus and is depicted on the Class of 2020 brass rat, was featured within the MIT Admissions Workplace’s Pi Day 2017 video (by which she was performed by Ayomide Fatunde ’18), producing a whole lot of media protection and breaking Admissions Workplace video viewership information. A number of professors have additionally referenced Marvel of their class assignments. For instance, in 2023’s 2.007 Design and Manufacturing class, college students designed robots that competed in a problem known as Machina Perpetually. When Wakanda Perpetually was launched, the MIT Lecture Collection Committee screened it in 26-100, and sophistication councils rented theaters to see the movie. And Robert Downey Jr., the actor who performed Iron Man, visited campus—and met with Professor Hugh Herr in MIT’s Y. Lisa Yang Middle for Bionics—in the summertime of 2022.

The true-world affect of MIT’s recurring function in Marvel story arcs goes past scenes filmed on campus and Marvel-inspired hacks. The complexity of the MIT characters reminds viewers and readers that not all MIT college students are reduce from the identical fabric. And the vary of heroes, villains, and people in between exhibits that everybody could make an affect. However equally vital, tales like these of Iron Man, Riri, and the Troubleshooters counterbalance what might be the unglamorous actuality of working to advance data and educate college students. These tales spotlight what’s thrilling about science and expertise—and simply may encourage the inventors and innovators of tomorrow. As Douglas says, “We don’t like our tales about committees. We like our tales about heroes and heroines.” 

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