A school event in which students (usually the entire class, or something to that extent) set up tables in a large, central location such as a cafeteria or auditorium and show off what's supposed to be a wide variety of science-related projects. Someone nearly always builds a volcano, a model of the solar system, or both. No one really knows why it's always those two specifically, but both seem to show up ridiculously often, to the point where it looks like that's all anyone ever does.
In terms of relevance and importance to a show, they can be anywhere from the entire focus of an episode to a minor side plot to simply being mentioned in passing.
Because This Loser Is You, plots related to science fairs will often (though certainly not always) be based around the Book Dumb hero getting the project done at the last minute. Another option is the hero getting one of his/her parents to "help" on the project and then having the project get commandeered by the parent. The Teen Genius is likely to strive to create a wonder that will turn science on its head (but will still lose to the kid with the volcano, possibly thanks to a Disastrous Demonstration that soaks, singes, or humiliates the principal and/or event judges).
Mainly a US and Canadian trope as it's schools in those countries that have this characteristic event, although there's always Eagleland Osmosis to consider. For weirder examples, see Mad Science Fair.
- Atomic Robo is called upon to judge one in the 2011 Free Comic Book Day issue. Both the solar system and a volcano are in evidence. Dr. Dinosaur wants to steal something else entirely.
- When Lex Luthor was a kid, he tried to enter a fission-powered toaster into a science fair, but was rejected. He got his revenge by stealing forty cakes from a nearby bake sale.
- In Bloom County, Oliver causes a panic in a science fair when he constructs a working nuclear weapon, scraping several thousand fluorescent wristwatches for the radioactive material.
Actually a case of art imitating life: Someone once panicked their community by trying for a nuclear weapon scout merit badge, scraping several thousand fire alarms for the radioactive material.
- In Peanuts, Lucy uses Linus and his blanket for her science project, and wins a ribbon for it.
- A lot of the action in Meet the Robinsons revolves around the results of a science fair, which has the obligatory volcano. And a few more interesting projects, such as fire ants, musical frogs and a brain scanner.
- The vinegar-baking soda volcano shows up in The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! as part of a professional science competition. It sounds like Rule of Funny, but that would have been quite something back in the age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men.
- The Strangers with Candy movie is centered on a science fair. Serious Business for everyone involved.
She's a Fig Neutron! Got her sexy science T-shirt on!
- In Juno, a vague reference to this trope is the best Mark can do at articulating why he wants to be an adoptive dad.
- There's a science fair near the beginning of Real Genius; Mitch has a homemade ultraviolet laser amongst everyone else's more standard projects.
- In The Manhattan Project, Paul says he's going to submit a project about raising a generation of hamsters in the dark to see if it improves their hearing. It's just a cover story for the real project—his atomic bomb. It's at the "45th National Science Fair" where Dr. Mathewson and The Government catch up to him.
- In Osmosis Jones, Frank once made himself ill by eating shellfish that a kid's science fair project had allegedly, but not really, rendered safe for human consumption.
- October Sky is about boys in a West Virginia coal town building rockets to enter into the county (and later national) science fair.
- In Fantastic Four (2015), young Reed Richards and Ben Grimm tried to enter their teleportation device into a science fair. Despite demonstrating that it actually works, they were rejected because the adults just couldn't believe that it was real and thought the two faked it somehow to get attention.
- The second Captain Underpants Book.
- In the Babysitters Club book Jessi's Babysitter, the babysitters get involved in assisting with the elementary school science fair. Represented among the entries are the classic solar system model and volcano. Other clients do such projects as "Barbie on the moon" and the effect of music on plant growth.
- The events of Dinoverse are set off by one of these, when Bertram builds what he doesn't know is a time machine for a demonstration.
- One of pop-science humour writer Judith Stone's essays, collected in How to Tell a Proton From a Crouton, is about science fairs. At one point she tells a story about a little girl whose volcano didn't work, and was humiliated, and swore that one day she'd have a job making fun of science.
- Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain: The book starts with Penny trying to come up with something interesting for the science fair. While doing that, her Mad Scientist power sparks, and she ends up creating a perfect recycling machine that acts like a living thing and responds to voice commands. Unfortunately, the judges give her a zero because they assume she borrowed it from her super genius father. This gets worse when the head cheerleader, Marcia Bradley, borrows a piece of alien technology for her presentation. Penny's best friend Ray is pissed on her behalf, and destroys the science fair at night. Except the whole thing was a trap by Marcia, who is actually the superhero sidekick Miss A, in order to draw out supervillain kids. Penny, Ray, and their friend Claire end up fighting off Miss A, which is how they end up as supervillains.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer mentions one in passing when Cordelia complains about it being mandatory that year, although the science fair itself is never actually shown.
- In one of the weirder episode of Drake & Josh, Josh and his girlfriend compete by building functional death rays. For a high school science fair. It was a really weird episode, specially since nobody seemed to find this weird or unlikely or frightening, so Rule of Funny doesn't even apply …
- CSI has an episode were a science fair volcano is a clue in a case. Nick, Greg and Catherine all reminisce about making a similar project in their youth, and how it should have won. Grissom however, did win his school science fair for a maze with beetles.
- Tesla High in Eureka has quite possibly the coolest (and most competitive) science fair in television. It helps that the kids' parents are all hotshot scientists at an uber-secret government facility; past experience with it has taught Deputy Jo Lupo to attend in full SWAT gear.
- In one episode of Leverage, Sophie hijacks one of these in order to turn it into a musical as part of a con.
Whidmark Fowler: It might seem kind of crazy
Or even just plain gross
To sing in praise of bread mold
And wonder how it grows...
- The Cosby Show had one of the Huxtable girls have a model of the solar system for her display and was totally upstaged by her friend's sound controlled machines. The Huxtable girl jealously accuses of her friend of cheating since her father is a engineer, but Cliff coaxes her into admitting that her own exhibit was really lame and her friend deserved to win.
- Flashback in Scrubs when Turk gets a 3rd prize award for science fair as a kid and delivers this humorous dialogue:
Turk: But I didn't even enter the contest!Award Giver: Shhh, And smile for the camera.
- One episode of The Red Green Show has Red insisting on "helping" with Harold's entry in the local fair. The show being what it is, (what's left of) Red and Harold stagger back into the Possum Lodge and report it all ended with multiple explosions and the first-prize trophy embedded in Stinky Peterson's body. The girl who actually won had a fire extinguisher exhibit.
- The New Adventures of Beans Baxter: In "Beans' Under the Weather", Scooter invents weather-making machine for a science fair, and UGLI attempts to use it for their own ends.
- The Secret World of Alex Mack had a science fair that wasn't sponsored by a school, but by the Paradise Valley Chemical Plant. Alex's older sister Annie entered a very impressive project resembling a laser, however Alex witnessed another competitor attempting to sabotage it by dropping it on the ground. Alex used her telekinetic powers to save it, but got in trouble when the plant's GC-161 alarms went off, potentially incriminating her.
- Phil of the Future used a variant where the kids had to create their own invention. Phil and Keely enter a voice-activated pudding dispenser. The conflict arises when Phil sees all the kids using things like batteries or gas to power their inventions and uses a milk engine on his for flavor. Phil's father Lloyd panics, explaining that milk engines weren't invented until 2075 after oil ran out, so while they'll common back home in 2121 they're an impossibility in 2004, and this puts them at risk at being found out as time-travelers because Phil didn't invent the Milk Engine and has no proof he designed it. Phil ends up sabotaging his own project, so his rival wins with a simple portable changing room.
- Dinosaurs episode "Power Erupts" starts with Robbie making a volcano for his science fair project, the twist is that the concept is about using the volcano's heat to power houses. The real plot kicks in when it stands that this concept might actually work in real life, bringing down the wrath of WESAYSO power division who don't want their monopoly challenged.
- The Librarians 2014 episode "...and the Rule of Three" is set at a high-pressure science fair where someone is using magic to sabotage the other competitors. And for "someone" read "almost everyone".
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide had an episode focusing on Ned trying to get a good grade in the science fair by entering Cookie's exo-skeleton, Moze trying to find something to eat since she was a model for Ned's project, and Cookie trying to win back Vanessa after the events of the "Excuses" episode. The winner of the science fair ends up being the paper towel experiment (since it was the only project not destroyed by Ned's exo-skeleton).
- The music video for Motion City Soundtrack's Her Words Destroyed My Planet features the members of the band entering an elementary school science fair with a robot, virtual reality simulation, a cloning machine, the "theory of everything", and a giant volcano model. They all get first-place ribbons and trophies, after which some of the kids incinerate them with laser blasters.
- Portal 2 has the remains of an old science fair in the old abandoned Aperture Science labs. In its saner days, Aperture Labs apparently sponsored science competitions for its employees' children as part of Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. The experiments on display are actually Foreshadowing for stuff you encounter later in the game. All but one of the experiments is a potato battery. The remaining one is, naturally, a baking soda volcano. Wheatley, somewhat creepily, suggests that this was probably the child of working-class parents. One of the projects is also signed as made by "Chell", which incidentally is the name of the main character.
- Fair is set at the Hillview Elementary School science fair. The main character, a science fiction author, is a guest judge at the event.
- An episode of Bob and George, in which Dr. Cossack's daughter builds a self-aware robot and actually ends up losing to a papier-mâché volcano! She lived in the Soviet Union, and since they couldn't use the usual method of consulting the preserved head of Josef Stalin (Dr. Wily stole it), they gave it to the other guy because they thought a boy winning would be better for the country.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: the chapter "Two Strange Girls" focuses on a school science fair and a string of sabotages against the various projects. Kat gets annoyed that people are ignoring her studies of protein crystals and are more interested in the anti-gravity device she built to make them. No volcanoes this time, though.
- An Omake of Girl Genius is a "Cinderella" parody for sparks, so the prince.. er.. twin princes are throwing a science fair, and there is a volcano.
- The school science fair in Urgent Transformation Crisis involved students meddling with one another's DNA but somehow managed to avoid the obligatory volcano.
- Scrambled Eggs has a running gag in which Quint always loses the science fair to his Vietnamese stepbrother Tuan.
- The short, "Buster's Guide to Goofing Off" from the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "You Asked For It Again" was focused entirely on Buster waiting until the last minute to build a model volcano for the school science fair. Typical in every way possible, and on purpose.
- An episode of King of the Hill in which Connie's cousin from Los Angeles, amazingly enough, managed to persuade Bobby to build a crystal meth lab for their science project. She told him it was a "candy machine". Seriously. Bobby evidently doesn't watch MTV or Law & Order.
- Science fairs have been featured many times on The Simpsons, although they've only based a whole episode around it once. In that one, Lisa does a project on humiliating Bart after he destroyed her original project, a giant steroid-grown tomato intended to cure world hunger. Science fairs were also mentioned at least in passing in Lisa's segment of the "Rashomon"-Style episode, where she had a grammar-correcting robot, and the "Treehouse of Horror" episode where she created a miniature civilization.
- In The Adventures of Sam and Max, Freelance Police, the titular characters meet The Geek at a science fair. Her project is a black hole. That's right — a black hole.
- Recess does something similar, where it's established that only Gretchen ever bothers to do anything but volcano models. This time, they hook up all their volcanoes to go off at once in a ring of fire, and end up winning. Gretchen loses because another girl steals her project, resulting in automatic disqualification.
- Dexter's Laboratory had a science fair involved in Mandark's attempt to get revenge on Dexter for getting Deedee to destroy Mandark's lab in an earlier episode.
- Doug has an episode where the titular character builds a volcano for a science fair project. A rumor then spreads that his volcano caused the science room to explode, forcing Doug to hide from the police under an alias, Jack Bandit.
- Super Mario World has a science fair where Hip and Hop build a volcano while Oogtar and Yoshi cross a rutabaga with an eggplant. Hip and Hop sneak a Piranha Plant in the "eggabega" which becomes a giant when a jealous Oogtar inadvertently feeds it fertilizer. Things take a turn for the worse when Koopa accidentally causes Hop to release huge amounts of lava through the volcano, forcing everyone to rush out of the school before it gets destroyed.
- Kim Possible features a science fair with assigned partners. Kim and Insufferable Genius Justine build an elaborate portal to another dimension that conveniently catches a monster created by Kim's Arch-Enemy (and inconveiently returns it during the fair.) Ron and Monique put a volcano together at the last minute.
- Phineas and Ferb features a science fair, where our heroes help Baljeet build a portal to Mars. While Dr. Doofenshmirtz recollects building elaborate ray guns, but always being beaten by the baking soda volcano, even when he switched to a poetry contest. So he enters the fair with a huge baking soda volcano, which naturally doesn't work out for him. The winner is a girl who constructed a set of Mechanical Arms ... to build a baking soda volcano.
- An episode of All Grown Up! uses the "parent taking control of the project" scenario. Tommy got help from Stu, his dad, on building an automatic sock sorter, but was disqualified after people found out that Stu had done the bulk of the construction after turning the project into something else entirely.
- Done in Arthur. Curiously enough, no one did a volcano or solar system project, although Book Dumb Binky made a project called "Rocks Near School".
- The twin sisters of Johnny Test win their school's science fairs every time. If the show wants them to find a science fair challenging, they'll be competing against adults, not classmates.
- In a subversion, Velma on What's New, Scooby-Doo? was shown bringing a project with which she'd already won a big science contest to NASA, so its experiment can be carried out in orbit. No, it wasn't a volcano; it's to study how earthworms move about in zero-g.
- The volcano part was exaggerated in one episode of Chaotic, where every project but Kaz's was a volcano.
- The 1980s version of The Little Rascals had an episode titled "Science Fair and Foul", in which Buckwheat built a voice-activated TV Head Robot to compete with Waldo's solar-powered ice cream machine.
- In Superman: The Animated Series, Lobo reveals that his High School Science Project 'fragged' the rest of his planet. Since there was nobody left to contest it, he gave himself an 'A' for it.
- The kids on Transformers Prime had to get ready for one of these. Ratchet "helped" them to the extent that their projects were unrecognizable and failures- the model of the planet had several moons, the volcano was made of metal and dangerous, and the homemade bike tried to transform and exploded.
- In Jimmy Neutron, Cindy sues Jimmy and gets him banned from the science fair because his genius makes him win every time. He shows up anyway and gets a Nobel Prize from an invention he didn't get to send in, which almost kills his dad, the principal and the Nobel Prize guy. And Sheen had a very hungry lizard.
Principal: Okay! First prize goes to all the inventions that helped stop Jimmy's death machine!
- On one episode of Monsters vs. Aliens, Sqweep makes the obligatory volcano for his Earth study class. However, he built it full scale, which resulted in the entire base being covered in foam.
- In the Futurama episode "Cold Warriors", a young Fry entered a science contest to send experiments to the space station. His was to infect a hamster with the common cold and see whether being in space cures it. When there's a cold epidemic in the future, the crew goes to find the station to find a specimen of the cold virus to cure it. The specimen came from another expermient, with Fry realizing that his experiment wouldn't have worked anyway.
- In El Tigre episode "The Cuervo Project", Manny and Frida are assigned science-fair partners to Zoe Aves, AKA Black Cuervo. They decide to build a model of the Miracle City volcano, which Zoe ends up doing all the work on because Manny and Frida are trying to figure out whether or not she's Black Cuervo. Then it transpires that every student in school had the same idea. Zoe's volcano wins first prize by being bigger than the others, Manny gets an award for participation, and Frida gets a notice of suspension.
- At the beginning of the Sonic Boom episode, "Mombot", Dr. Eggman enters one intended for children to show off his latest invention. Beth the Shrew wins for her diorama of the solar system, and Lady Walrus' Son (whose science project is a rock he chose at the last minute), the Monkey Boy, and the Reindeer Girl all get participation trophies. Dr. Eggman doesn't even get one, due to being disqualified for exceeding the maximum height at a children's competition.
- The Bob's Burgers episode "Topsy" is centered around a science fair, which is run by the new Thomas Edison-obsessed science teacher who refuses to allow volcanoes to be submitted, seeing them as a cheap cop-out so kids don't have to do any actual work. Louise, who was going to enter a volcano that was destroyed in class by the teacher, opts to get revenge on him by reenacting the infamous execution of Topsy the circus elephant, which Edison is commonly (and mistakenly) blamed for because she was electrocuted to death, and Edison owned the patent for the camera the footage was filmed on. She uses Tesla coils, a rubber yoga mat, and makes Tina play the part of Topsy.note