Maryland Movie Connections–Good Will Hunting & Dr. George Dantzig

If you’ve seen the movie Good Will Hunting, then you remember the scene where janitor Matt Damon (suspend your disbelief, please) solves an unsolvable problem left on a blackboard.  But did you know that this scene is based on the life of a notable Maryland alum?

C'mon Matt, those toilets aren't cleaning themselves.
C’mon Matt, those toilets aren’t cleaning themselves.

In fact, the story of solving the unsolvable problem is so famous that it’s become an urban legend, but it has serious truth a its core.

Turns out back in 1939 a recent Maryland grad named George Dantzig was late (as he admitted he often was) for his graduate level statistics class at UC Berkeley.  He was in such a hurry upon arrival that he mistook the two problems he saw on the blackboard–statistics problems that had never been solved–as homework.

So he solved both of them.

Several weeks later, Dantzig’s professor came knocking late at night, informing Dantzig of his feat and insisting that they immediately submit one of the solutions for publication.  Ten years later, the second solution was also published.

Dantzing went on to became a famous mathematician (many refer to him as the “father of linear programming”) and emeritus professor at Stanford.  While a student at Maryland, George took classes from, among others, his father Tobias, a noted mathematician in his own right.  George graduated from Maryland in 1936, serving as president of (what else?) the mathematics club.  In 1976 Maryland awarded him an honorary degree, and in 2010 he was posthumously inducted into Maryland’s Alumni Hall of Fame.

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