Mad Scientist Laboratory

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

The place where Science! happens. Usually pronounced "lah-BOHR-ah-tor-ee" in ominous, stentorian tones.

Every Mad Scientist has to have a lab. This is typically a refurbished dungeon of some sort, with aging stone walls. It also must contain most of the following lab equipment:

  • An operating table. Two if the Mad Scientist does brain transplants. Optional, though, is the winch for raising the table up to the roof.
  • A big honking Jacob's Ladder (the thing that looks like a rabbit-ear antenna with an electrical arc between the posts)
  • A Tesla coil.
  • A roof that opens to the sky, to let the lightning in and/or the Death Ray out.
  • A 60s-style mainframe computer with big dials and switches on the front. Add spinning tape reels for extra credit.
  • Bits of animals and people preserved in formaldehyde.
  • A whole bunch of glassware, especially test tubes, beakers, flasks of colored liquid, distilling columns, condensers, burettes, Bunsen burners, and that thing you get when you hook a bunch of them together.
  • Optionally, depending on your flavor of Mad Scientist, you may find a wall generously populated with chains and manacles (just to make sure the experimental subjects stay handy and don't wander away) and a big worn chalkboard filled with equations.[1]
  • Dusty piles of incomprehensible failed experiments, which may or may not suddenly become a danger to anyone wandering around unsupervised.
  • May be in the dungeon of the Haunted Castle, or on an isolated tropical island.
  • Big levers or control panels (that may or may not explode).

Never mind that real science does not generally call for all of these things at the same time—or within the same discipline! -- the Mad Scientist doesn't specialize. All the same, most of what he does will at least look like chemistry, since nothing shouts "science" to the casual viewer more than a guy in a lab coat fiddling with a beaker of colored liquid.

Also never mind that modern chemistry has very little use for the big impressive glass-sculpture thing with with a lot of burettes, condensers, and funny coils of glass. (These actually were useful constructs at one time, but they're the chemistry equivalent of doing differential equations on an abacus. Also, even when they were used, a typical experimental setup would have consisted of three to six of the pieces put together; never dozens of pieces, all connected, as shown on the screen.) You need this stuff because otherwise, the audience won't realize that Science goes on here.

The archetypical movie Mad Scientist Laboratory probably came from the classic silent film Metropolis, though the Universal remake of Frankenstein added a fair amount. Both were probably strongly influenced by a real-life example that was a staple in popular media between 1900 and 1940; the various laboratories of Nikola Tesla, which actually did feature gigantic incomprehensible machinery, scary robotic devices, Tesla coils, and lots of gaudy electric-arc effects.

All of the film, TV, and comic versions of the Mad Scientist's Lab derive originally from Gothic horror stories of the 18th and 19th centuries, the most famous of them being Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein and H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau. The concept developed from older stories about the lairs of alchemists and sorcerers. The Enlightenment put paid to many kinds of mystical dabbling by dilettantes, tinkerers, and wealthy eccentrics, but these characters were replaced in the public imagination by gentleman scientists—many of them self-taught, many very eccentric—who built laboratories and observatories in their homes and made a number of important discoveries in the new disciplines of chemistry, physics, and biology.

The age of the gentleman scientist was ending by the 1850's, when the most famous of them, Charles Darwin, published his Theory of Evolution. More and more, experimental research became associated with facilities provided by universities, foundations, museums, governments and industry. However, the romantic image of the mad scientist — isolated from his fellows and angry with a world that would suppress his ideas — has deep archetypal power. It's also dramatically compact, needing only the scientist, an assistant, and a faithful servant or two as characters. The meme's emotional energy and enactment efficiency has kept it alive into the 21st Century, and it's even routinely projected into future scenarios via television shows like Star Trek and The Outer Limits.

This is edging toward becoming a Discredited Trope, at least in the classic beaker/Jacob's Ladder/operating table configuration.

Examples of Mad Scientist Laboratory include:

Anime and Manga

  • Jail Scaglietti of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha has the operating table, but lacks most of the other stuff. He makes up for it by having rows and rows and rows of People Jars.
  • Mazinger Z: Big Bad Dr. Hell had his own laboratory installed in his Supervillain Lair, but it was barely seen in the series. Dr. Kabuto's lab in the original manga also counts.
  • Washuu from Tenchi Muyo! has a giant laboratory that spans five planets, set up in other-dimensional space and accessible through a door that is usually located under the stairs in Tenchi's house, but which can vanish or move as Washuu wills it.
  • Professor Franken Stein from Soul Eater has quite an interesting home/lab. Stitched patterns are found randomly throughout the house, both the inside and outside (and also on his clothes and even his person). He has an older looking computer and many chemistry related items such as a Bunsen burner, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, etc. Arrows are painted on the floor pointing in different directions, usually away and toward doorways.
    • He no doubt has an operating table somewhere in his lab, since he has an affinity for dissecting things. Anything.
  • In Wild Fangs, Syon was created and grew up in one of these, of the castle dungeon variety.
  • Rental Magica, episode 7, has a Mad Alchemist's Laboratory complete with all the glassware mentioned in the introductory text above and then some. A later episode has one of the involved characters polishing test tubes while guarding a prisoner.


  • Merlin's cottage in Disney's The Sword in the Stone is one of these. In that film, he's a powerful wizard who uses magic to teach science to young Arthur.
  • The James Bond films had their resident good-guy Mad Scientist, Q; almost every film features a peek into his lab, which usually features several assistants participating in such dubious experiments as testing a new bulletproof vest by putting one on and getting shot.
  • Dr. Putrid T. Gangrene's lab in Return of the Killer Tomatoes certainly qualifies, but he isn't mad, just a little angry.
  • Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004). The laboratory of Dr Walter Jennings (with mutated fetus and tiny elephant), and the room in Shangri La (shown in a deleted scene) where Totenkopf conducted experiments on radiation victims from his uranium mine.
    • Dr. Totenkopf requires a special mention here as his 'laboratory' is a whole factory complex, complete with a rocket launch silo.
  • Iron Man Tony Stark has an updated version in the basement of his house. Robot assistants, machine shop, electronics fabrication, CADCAM system.
  • Day of the Dead (1985).
  • Dr. Rotwang's laboratory in Metropolis (1927) is perhaps the earliest example of the trope on film, and features all the necessary paraphernalia, along with large pentagrams to tie him to the classical magician/alchemist archetypes.


  • Deconstructed a little in Teresa Edgerton's The Castle of the Silver Wheel by Gwenlliant's reaction to Lord Cado's wizard's laboratory. When Gwenlliant - who grew up at court and was taught by the resident alchemist / wizard - first sees Cado's laboratory, she is immediately uneasy, knowing that he must be a bad wizard - "either not very principled, or not very wise". No proper wizard would bother to keep so many showy magical experiments running at once; they would be set up one at a time for research purposes, and would not be shown off to visitors.
  • No surprise that Discworld can't have a scene in a magic-user's residence without poking fun at the Mad Wizard's Laboratory variant of this trope. Most common are jokes about how they all order identical decor out of a kit: pre-dribbled candles, dusty skulls (with optional raven on top), mysterious alchemical glass apparati (usually filled with green-dyed water and soap), and the sorcerer's equivalent of the Jacob's ladder, i.e. a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling.
    • We actually meet a dealer in such accoutrements in the Tiffany Aching series of Discworld stories, as well as a catalogue marketing the witch's version: packaged cobwebs (with optional rubber spiders), icky bubbly goo for cauldrons, big ominous mirrors with a selection of frames, enough dopey Wicca-wannabee amulets to strangle a giraffe, etc. Boffo!
      • Magrat was a sucker for this stuff in Wyrd Sisters, though Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax thought it was all a waste of time, though maybe good for "headology".
  • Comrade Death, a short story by Gerald Kersh, features Sarek's Under World, the underground nightmare where his company's increasingly horrible chemical weapons are developed.
  • The titular character of The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling has a rather mundane version of one of these in a shed in his backyard, but in the second episode he encounters some really sophisticated ones in the Prometheus Corporation’s HQ, some of which even have Jacob’s ladders and bubbling beakers.

Live-Action TV

Tabletop Games

  • Spirit of the Century has an interesting play on this with Der Blitzmann, a German Mad Scientist has a portable lab, in the form of his mechanical exoskeleton. Despite the nontraditional size and style, it does come complete with Tesla Coils. Weaponized Tesla Coils.
    • Given some of the other NPCs, it's hard to not to imagine their secret lairs set up this way:
      • Dr. Methusala seems to set up a lab wherever he happens to be conducting his latest experiments, and probably has more chalkboard and less stuff lying around.
      • Baroness Blackheart probably has a good old fashioned alchemical lab, complete with smoking cauldron and eye of newt.
      • Mizrahi probably has something somewhere between the two, filled with chalkboards, but also with various kabbalistic paraphernalia.
    • Heck, considering that the Mad Scientist is a possible character build, and having a laboratory is no real problem, the PCs could easily play to this trope.

Video Games

  • The base editor in City of Villains has all requisite mad science lab items, with classic items ranging from operating tables to jacob's ladders of various sizes to organs in jars (ranging from preserved to rotted), and more modern items like microscopes, X-Ray machines, and LCD monitors.
  • This is the whole point of the sandbox game Evil Genius.
  • The Forsaken in World of Warcraft apparently discovered this trope in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, as their bases in Northrend tend to be full of traditional Mad Scientist equipment like tesla coils, jacob's ladders and mechanical arms that move vials of glowing chemicals around.
  • Mad Science Castle in Monster Lab is, of course, Exactly What It Says on the Tin. You get no less than four laboratories, three that correspond with the three disciplines of mad science (mechanics, biology and alchemy) and a fourth where Lightning Can Do Anything.
  • A large number of them exist in Deus Ex. Somewhat justified in that several factions are technocratic cabals who see "technology alone as a source of political power," and some of them are on your side. Still, applies mainly to scientists serving the Big Bad.
  • The whole Gouma-Den in the Raidou duology. Hosted by lovable lunatic Dr. Victor. Complete with virtually all of the accoutrements of the standard lab.

Web Comics

  • Narbonic has these, of course, and lampshades the trope on occasion. (example)
  • Every Spark worth their salt in Girl Genius possesses one of these.
    • One? Why stop at one?
    • Castle Heterodyne has quite a lot of them, so every Spark in the family can perform their own experiments without getting in each other's way. And so they don't have to drag the bodies far when the urge strikes.
    • In the novel ("Agatha H. and the Airship City", an expanded prose version of the first few comic volumes) Agatha asks Gil why he needs four labs aboard Castle Wulfenbach. He replies that his father has forty-three plus two ground-based facilities, so by comparison he's a model of efficiency.
  • The Opians, an alien race in Thog Infinitron, have an interstellar spacecraft with an onboard laboratory where they engineer ways to destroy Thog. [dead link]
  • In Sluggy Freelance Riff rents out some tunnels to act as his secret, underground lab. At least when Minion Master's not using it as his "Domicile of Evil."
  • Subverted in El Goonish Shive. Tedd's lab consists of a desk, computer, and a place to test the TF Gun.
  • Professor Joseph Corwin in Tales Of Gnosis College houses his Apsinthion Device, a tank with a tentacle monster, and in impressive amount of weird glassware in a mad scientist's laboratory located in a derelict red-brick brewery that rather resembles an old-fashioned castle.
  • Evil Plan the Webcomic Doctor Kinesis has a multi-level lab, complete with minions and a vat of "acid."
  • Dottore's lab in Commedia 2X00 is packed with this stuff—literally, in the storage basement, the boxes are labeled with things like "blinkenlights", "boss themes (casettes)", and "mecha-piranhas, x-mas decs". Being Dottore, it's also stocked with warp-pipes, wall-mounted chainsaws, an inexplicable fiery lake of lava (complete with Heli-Kraken...)

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Dexter's Laboratory is a little light on the glassware, but even so he occasionally carries around a beaker. More often, he can be seen endlessly turning a nut with a wrench, against a background of computer banks, et al.
  • Jack Spicer from Xiaolin Showdown has a slightly more detailed laboratory than Dexter, but again, much more often computer-y than chemistry-set based.
  • In Transformers: Beast Wars, Tarantulas has SEVERAL, and Megatron and Scorponok have labs too, to name just a few.
  • Averted in Futurama where Professor Farnsworth's lab is usually suprisingly sparse, with only one piece of equipment at a time.
    • Although in one episode he's shown to have about a dozen different doomsday devices tucked away.
  • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Man-At-Arms has a big and impressive lab (good for those trademark Filmation long, slow pans), though it's not at all sinister-looking, since he's a nice guy.
  1. Although Your Mileage May Vary on how "big" they actually are. People who don't perform calculations on chalkboards tend to underestimate the amount of space one wants to have available.