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Rival Science Teams

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Professor Farnsworth, Futurama

In science fiction shows, particularly ones where advanced super-technology drives the plot, the good guys and the bad guys will often have their own R&D teams. When the tech level is supposed to be evenly matched between the sides, this is frequently because both sides have Rival Science Teams.

Maybe the lead scientists know each other professionally. Maybe they went to school together or worked together in the past or were lovers or whatever. What's important now is that the two head scientists hate each other. They may still respect each other's work professionally, but they've taken diametrically opposed paths over political ideology, scientific theory, sheer ego, etc., and now they're motivated to beat the other team.


Usually, the opposing science teams will be very familiar with the research of their rivals. When one side debuts their latest technological triumph, the other team is there to explain to the heroes or villains what exactly it is they've pulled off, either with curses at having been beaten or just the perfect countermeasure in mind.

Rival science teams may sometimes be ideologues for their side, or they may simply be hiring themselves out to whoever funds their crazy research in an attempt to get one up on their rivals. This trope specifically refers to rivalries between the supporting cast. It does not describe when the heroes and villains themselves are scientists, far more personally involved in the main conflict.

Their contribution to the plot is to provide McGuffins and to explain those belonging to the other side. Rival Science Teams are very often behind Lensman Arms Races. In some cases where computers are often used, they have Dueling Hackers.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • Possibly, Shinigami captain Mayuri Kurotsuchi vs. the Arrancar Szayel Aporro Grantz — two squicky Mad Scientist guys with very low morals.
    • Based on Filler, there seems to be a similar rivalry between Mayuri and the Captain Unohana in regard to medical treatment; Ichigo himself comments on the atmosphere between the two.
  • Code Geass: The teams working under Earl Lloyd Asplund and Rakshata Chawla for Britannia and the Black Knights, respectively, inspired the creation of this page. The two sides frequently bemoan the other side's achievements — Lloyd expresses irritation that "That Woman" completed the Hadron Cannon, and Rakshata is irritated that "the Earl of Pudding" completed the Float System first. By second season, both sides have replicated the achievements of the other side, created counter measures to those that were problematic in the first season, and are busy rolling out new technology. It's a Lensman Arms Race, alright. It was Nina who won by perfecting the FLEIJA warhead.
  • Tenchi Muyo! has a borderline case of this. While Washu is in the supporting cast of the series, and Dr. Clay is the lackey of a distant goddess, the part of the series that has the two of them in conflict have them acting far more as main hero and villain than would normally fit this trope. However, they did go to the same school, do know each other's technology thoroughly, have the same "animal-themed hair", and dislike each other intensely. In fact, Dr. Clay's cold dismissal of the clay-based clone he created to kill Tenchi after taking a kidnapped Ryoko's appearance makes Washu very pissed off and she angrily asks him how he dares to call himself a scientist.

    Comic Books 
  • Atomic Robo runs on this. On the side of good, we have Tesladyne, run by Robo and staffed by his Action Scientists. For the bad guys, we have various Axis organizations during (and occasionally after) WWII, and in more recent settings, Majestic 12 and its successor Task Force ULTRA, which manages to temporarily take over Tesladyne. There's also Big Science Inc., a Japanese Kaiju-busting outfit that fields its own Sentai team, as well as a number of other more morally grey teams, such as Department Zero (Soviet Former Regime Personnel who run the super-science black market) and China's Most Perfect Science Division, whom the Tesladyne resistance turns to help rebuild Robo while ULTRA is after their heads.
  • Ninja High School has a lower-level rivalry going on between Professor Steamhead and Professor Beanhead over whether steam or beans will save the world. Both are classic one-technology Mad Scientists who use their chosen technology to accomplish everything.

  • Pacific Rim: Granted, they are one-man teams and both on the side of humanity, but the rivalry between the gimpy British theoretician Herman and the tatted-up, Kaiju-groupie experimentalist Newton is pretty epic.
  • Twister: Jonas' corporate-sponsored tornado chasing team vs. Bill and Jo's independent tornado chasing team. Exacerbating things is the fact that Jonas is using his own version of the Dorothy device and Bill feels like he ripped them off, but to Jonas' defense at the time he had left Jo's team the idea was still unrealized. Still, the symbology (homogenized black vehicles and a team that depends on technology vs. a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits led by someone with a "gift" for predicting tornado's reactions) and Jonas being a hard-core Smug Snake means that he's going down hard.

  • Foaly the centaur and Opal the pixie are rival scientists from Artemis Fowl. Foaly works for the LEP (fairy police force), and Opal is the prodigious heir to the Koboi company and becomes a main villain, even before they were on opposite sides of the law they were extremely competitive. To a lesser extent, Foaly and Artemis himself are rivals because of the human boy's impressive intellect and ability to decipher and outwit superior fairy technology.
  • Honor Harrington: Manticore's Sonja Hemphill and her team at BuWeaps versus Havenite "tech-witch" Shannon Foraker's Bolthole team, with the only deviation from the trope being the fact that it is genuinely Nothing Personal on both sides. By A Rising Thunder, Haven has — thanks to Eloise Pritchart's audacious diplomatic gambit — concluded not only a peace treaty but a military alliance with Manticore against the Solarian League and the Mesan Alignment. (It's a long story — literally.) One of the first things the Grand Alliance does is send Hemphill and her staff off to Bolthole to combine forces with Foraker and her team. The two are on a First-Name Basis within five minutes of meeting each other, and are promptly nicknamed the "Demonic Duo" by the title character. The fanbase was delighted.

    Video Games 
  • In Dishonored, Corvo's allies the Loyalists field Piero Joplin against the Regency's Anton Sokolov. Both men also have a personal rivalry going since their days in academia. Of course, this becomes a moot point when Corvo kidnaps Sokolov, taking him (but not his technology) out of the running. Surprisingly enough, Piero and Sokolov soon become friends who work very well together and in the Low-Chaos ending, cure the plague.
  • Black Mesa and Aperture Science from Half-Life and Portal. While Cave Johnson, Aperture's CEO, regarded Black Mesa as his Arch-Enemy and thought they made money out of stealing his technology, Aperture is seen by them as their Unknown Rival. In reality, Black Mesa asked for limited funding for military projects and churned out Boring, but Practical solutions, while Aperture would demand billions and deliver disaster after disaster until somehow they found a way to twist physics into a pretzel (and in the process, completely ignored the original purpose of the project). Scientists who worked for Black Mesa regard Aperture as brilliant, but catastrophically reckless, as seen when in Half-Life 2: Episode 2, some eagerly discuss reclaiming a lost Aperture icebreaker, which they hope has samples of the amazing technology they came up with, but they are likewise understandably wary, given how it somehow managed to teleport to the Arctic from its drydock in Aperture's HQ... which is in the depths of an abandoned salt mine in Michigan.
    • Interestingly, in a parallel timeline, Johnson succeeded in buying out Black Mesa. After renaming it Blaperture Science, he proceeded to chew out the resident scientists for being reckless enough to carry out experiments which could cause a resonance cascade and immediately shut everything down.
  • Einstein vs. Tesla in Command & Conquer: Red Alert. And then Einstein (again) vs. Yuri in Red Alert 2.

  • The U.S. Government in String Theory (2009) intentionally sets this up, thinking that it will make the scientists work faster. It backfires.

    Web Original 
  • In Twig, Sylvester, who is a Tyke-Bomb created by Professor Hayle of Radham Academy, discovers that the Bad Seeds, suicidal clones of children who assassinate their parents in grisly murder-suicides, are in fact the result of a rival project which was rejected for funding in favor of his own.

    Western Animation 
  • Lincoln Clark and Fenwick are rival Child Prodigies in Dogstar: Lincoln on the side of the good guys, and Fenwick working for the Big Bad.
  • Futurama: Professor Farnsworth has a strong rivalry with Dr. Wernstrom, a former pupil of Farnsworth who turned against him after Farnsworth gave Wernstrom an A- on a test for bad penmanship. The movie The Beast with a Billion Backs has Professor Farnsworth and the Planet Express team fight Wernstrom's team for the right to participate in a scientific expedition... in a game of "deathball", which involves the players running around in a giant marble labyrinth game trying to knock giant ball bearings into holes.

    Real Life 
  • The USA and USSR during the Cold War. The Space Race is the most famous example, but national prestige was at stake in every field of the sciences as each power block sought to be the first to achieve this or that milestone. (Misplaced Nationalism has its uses sometimes.) One prime example was the nuclear chemistry teams at Lawrence Berkeley and Dubna, who spent over thirty years arguing over which had been the first to synthesize elements 104-106, and therefore who got to name them.
  • To some degree, the German and American atomic bomb projects.
  • General Electric led by Thomas Edison versus Westinghouse led by Nikola Tesla.
  • The rivalry between Watson and Crick, Rosalind Franklin, Linus Pauling, and Maurice Wilkins to be the first to discover the structure of DNA.
  • Cope and Marsh, two rival paleontologists who scoured the 1870's Old West for prehistoric fossils, and may have sabotaged/stolen each other's digs, in a lifelong competition: "The Bone Wars". Cope ran out of money; Marsh won, 89 dinosaurs to Cope's 56.
  • Michael White writes about some of the most important rivalries in science in Rivals: Conflict as the Fuel of Science. Newton and Leibniz, Edison and Tesla, Darwin and Wallace and even Bill Gates and Larry Ellison are amongst those covered.
  • The National Science Olympiad Competition is composed of these. The teams often wear T-shirts boasting of victory in intellectually amusing terms.
  • On a broader scale, there's a finite amount of grant money to be had and getting the credit for discovering something is a winner-takes-all affair, especially if said discovery yields something you can take to the patent office. Academic politics can be quite remarkably cutthroat at the higher echelons.
  • Played with during much of the Enlightenment and early modern eras. On the one hand, philosophers both natural and moral (scientist as a term wasn't really a thing until the end of the 19th century) viewed themselves as being part of an international fraternity working for the betterment of mankind. On the other, national pride was a thing and a lot of the modern difficulty in sussing out exactly who discovered what comes down to the fact that multiple people in different nations would claim credit and their fellow whateverists backed them to the hilt in support of the claim.

Professor Wernstrom, Futurama