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Posted on Sat, May 22, 2010 : 5:55 a.m.

University of Michigan forever linked to "Lost" via DHARMA Initiative

By Nathan Bomey


John Locke at work in the DHARMA Initiative's Swan Station.

photo courtesy ABC MediaNet

The University of Michigan may boast a $1 billion annual research budget, but even the university’s extensive resources are far from enough to generate sufficient answers to all the questions from the ABC hit show Lost.

Far more plausible is the suggestion that U-M could be the ultimate source of the DHARMA (Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications) Initiative, the pseudo-scientific experimental operation seeking to harness the electromagnetic energy radiating from the infamous island on “Lost.”

The global cachet of U-M’s scientific expertise got a charge when writers selected the university as the origin of the DHARMA Initiative during season 2 of “Lost,” which concludes its final season at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Former “Lost” writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a Huron High School grad, told last week that the local connection was his doing.

Yet the show’s creators wouldn’t have approved the reference if it were not wholly credible.

“Lost” references to Ann Arbor and U-M reflect the international stature of the university’s innovative research strategy.

DHARMA, according to an early “orientation” film discovered on the island during season 2, was “a large-scale communal research compound where scientists and free-thinkers from around the globe could pursue research in meteorology, psychology, parapsychology, zoology (and) electromagnetism.”

Here are a few eerie similarities between U-M and the DHARMA Initiative:

  • Both boast rich benefactors. U-M’s endowment measures in the billions of dollars — a result of a long list of generous donors. DHARMA had its own benefactor, Alvar Hanso, who funded U-M doctoral candidates and DHARMA founders Gerald and Karen DeGroot.
  • Both have expertise in electromagnetic research. U-M employs 11 faculty members in the applied electromagnetics program of the College of Engineering. DHARMA’s chief scientist and orientation film guru Pierre Chang, otherwise known as Marvin Candle, was a theoretical astrophysicist at U-M, according to fan website LostPedia.
  • U-M research influenced “Lost” character Daniel Faraday, whose time-travel expertise explained the island’s metaphysical properties. According to LostPedia, physicist “Enrico Fermi's famous equation was on Daniel's chalkboard in ‘The Constant.’ In 1933 Enrico Fermi taught a course in quantum electrodymanics at the University of Michigan.”
  • Both U-M and DHARMA have seemingly endless resources. In 2004, over a decade after DHARMA’s scientists had been wiped out, the operation was still receiving regular deliveries of food and water supplies.

"Lost" wraps up Sunday night on ABC with a series retrospective from 7-9 p.m., followed by the finale from 9-11:30 p.m.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Mon, May 24, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

U-M may be arrogant--what else is new--but to say they don't help the state, or take that mission seriously, is just goofy. The research at the Medical Center alone ranks with the best in the world, and it directly benefits people right here with jobs and health care. One of the main reasons I stay in Southeast Michigan is for the amazing health care from U-M. U-M also is in the top ten universities in the country for spinning off startup companies, and they've made entrepreneurship and economic development a huge focus, especially in the engineering and business schools. Then there's programs like the Detroit Center which does all kinds of social and economic entrepreneurship, and the Semester in Detroit program, and all the students who do incredible volunteering and hands-on work in the communities. There's plenty of things to complain about with U-M, but if you really think that it's not interested in serving the state you're either not paying attention or deliberately looking the other way.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Sat, May 22, 2010 : 5:55 p.m.

Well, there are so many hippies here I'm not surprised that they'd use the U of M as a source for crazy hippie stuff. Seriously though, this "reputation projection" may have helped the university but it's hurt the state because the U of M has become so full of itself that it sees helping the state as a state university as not even being part of it's mission any longer.

Richard Retyi

Sat, May 22, 2010 : 1:19 p.m.

Not Penny's boat.