8 Best Nerds Turned Heroes in the Universe

Here at Symform, we’re obsessed with heroes. We love them so much, we even pay the big bucks to have a superhero of our very own, Agent 001, on staff.
But the one thing we might like even more than heroes? Nerds.

So it delighted us to no end when we were digging through the archives and found a photo of Agent 001 as a kid.

Turns out when our agent was a gawky kid in short pants, he spent most of his free time sneaking into the local university to try his hand at programming the PDP-10s and Sigma 5s. That’s right, he was a nerd. Yet he’s not the only hero with a big helping of nerd in him. Here are our top eight favorite nerds turned heroes of all time.

8. Dr. Who

Some might argue the good doctor is more rightly classified as an eccentric rather than a nerd. They’d be wrong. Everyone’s favorite Time Lord displays many of the characteristics of our favorite nerds. Does he enjoy dabbling in fringe hobbies like magic, recorder playing, and roleplaying? Check! Does he know how to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow? Check! But mostly, we love this nerd because as he travels through the universe and time fighting the bad guys, he is still a bookworm at heart. Checkety check checkety check! Fantastic!

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books! Best weapons in the world. (Putting his glasses back on) This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself.”

7. Data

When Data’s maker/father, Dr. Soong, built him with a “brain” capable of computational speeds of more than 60,000,000,000,000 operations/second and a storage capacity of more than 800 quadrillion bits, he wasn’t just building the most human like android in the universe. He was creating a nerd. A nerd who loved roleplaying as Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck, theatrical singing, and knowing more than everyone else on the USS Enterprise combined.

Of course, with Data’s powerful computational abilities, he could have easily become an evil genius like his brother, Q. Instead, Data attended Starfleet, inserted his emotion chip, and put his neural networks to work making certain to bail Captain Picard and the rest of the crew out of trouble. And did he ever. We don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen the films, but let’s just say it’s hard to imagine anyone being more heroic than Data anywhere in the universe.

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“Our neural pathways have become accustomed to your sensory input patterns.”

6. Temperance “Bones” Brennan

If you’ve never caught Temperance “Bones” Brennan on the eponymous show “Bones,” you’re really missing one of the best nerds to ever get airtime. Of course, she’s awkward in the way only the truest of us nerds can be, often having difficulty discerning between sarcasm and literal meanings. She loves Wonder Woman; amasses odd pets like mice, snakes, and spiders; and collects PhDs like they’re going out of style. Though she could probably have excelled in any field, Bones uses her massive brain power to solve old murders with the FBI. It doesn’t get better than that.

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“But in any group, no matter how restrictive, the free thinkers, the mavericks, the rebels with leadership qualities find a way to declare their distinctiveness.”

5. Charlie Eppes

Charlie Eppes, the protagonist in the television show “Numb3rs,” is to computational complexity theory what Doogie Howser was to medicine. He was so advanced as a child, in fact, he became the youngest person to ever publish a major mathematical breakthrough at the ripe young age of 13. Don’t even get us started on his stint at Princeton, his multiple PhDs, his proclivity at chess, his Milton Prize, his Field’s Medal nomination, or his tenured spot at one of the top universities in the country, please. It induces nerd envy.

Regardless, all of those achievements aren’t enough to earn him a spot as a top nerd-turned-hero. It’s his work with the FBI solving unsolvable crimes. Well, and the fact that Charlie Eppes is a character who is truly human. He’s sensitive, emotional, and the kind of hero we want on our side.

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“Some people drink, some gamble – I analyze data.”

4. Lisbeth Salander

Lisbeth is tough, she’s mean, and she’s ruthless. Basically, she’s a badass in leather with something to prove and heaven help you if you get on her bad side. Yet at her core, she’s a researcher with hacking skills who can go toe-to-toe against anyone. Give her access to a computer and she can crack any encryption. We love her because she’s not afraid to mete out justice where the rest of us would turn and run for our lives. We don’t condone vigilantism, but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s not bad to have an avenger looking out for the little guys.

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“What an excellent tool the Internet is for freaks.”

3. Peter Parker (Spiderman)

Growing up, Peter Parker was your typical shy, nerdy kid who was secretly in love with the popular hottie at school. Then he tags along on a fieldtrip and is bitten by a radioactive spider. Thwipp!! He’s suddenly imbued with superpowers and becomes one of the coolest crime fighters of all time. Not only that, in a roundabout way, he gets the girl of his dreams and still takes care of his ailing aunt at home. Sometimes, as in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” saving the human species even requires a lot of time in the science lab. Sure, Batman has his fancy gadgets and Superman has superhuman strength, but they don’t have one thing Peter Parker has in spades: a true nerd’s spirit.

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“You know… it’s my calculation on the Planetary Conjunction.”


Original photo used by permission of Jason Lee.

2. Willow Rosenberg

When someone says “the hero of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’” of course, of course, everyone’s mind goes to Buffy Summers. But we don’t agree! After all, Buffy was called to become a Slayer by fate. Not Willow. Willow was dragged into the eternal struggle of good vs. evil by Buffy and didn’t have the aid of supernatural powers. Well, not at first, at least. At first, she’s just a shy and nerdy girl trying to make it through the horrifying world of high school. Then she finds her magic and slowly we see the nerdy girl blossom into a powerful witch who ultimately saves the world from evil. Not bad, Willow, not bad.

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“I’m not ashamed. It’s the computer age. Nerds are in. They’re still in, right?”

1. Mister Spock

Of course, Mister Spock has to be rated at the top of a nerd-turned-hero list. He is, after all, the ultimate trekkie. As the USS Enterprise’s science officer and Captain Kirk’s first officer, Spock often played the role of conscience against Kirk’s more aggressive nature. Half human and half Vulcan, Spock seemed to have inherited the best characteristics from both races. He was logical, unemotional, and prone to staying unattached and thoughtful when the crew found themselves in trouble. Plus, his Vulcan mind-melding skills really came in handy in a pinch. And he was tough, too. I mean, we wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of Spock’s Vulcan death grips. All in all, Spock is the perfect balance of a nerd with a lot of hero. Though he’s technically not even born yet, here’s hoping that he’ll live long. And prosper.

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“I am endeavoring, ma’am, to construct a mnemonic circuit using stone knives and bearskins.”

Bonus Real Life Nerd: Bill Gates

We couldn’t end the list without throwing in one bonus real life king of the nerds, Bill Gates. He went from a gawky kid kicking around the hallways of Harvard to CEO of the largest software firm in the world. Yet the thing that makes Bill Gates such a hero isn’t his stacks of cash. No, this guy makes our list as the top nerd who grew up to be a hero for a very different reason. It’s because of his heart.

The on-again/off-again richest man in the world is also one of the biggest philanthropists. With his wife, he founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which aims to reduce worldwide poverty, improve access to healthcare, and to expand educational opportunities. With an endowment valued at over $32 billion, this organization is making good on its goals.

Favorite Nerd Quote:

“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”