Physical Science

Physical science is the study of the physical world around you. Learn about everything from electricity to magnetism in this section.

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Over the years, nuclear reactors have been viewed as both a miracle and a menace. How does a nuclear reactor do its job? And what happens when something goes wrong?

By Patrick J. Kiger

It's lunchtime, and you've spastically spilled soda all over your desk. Chances are you could tackle that mess faster than we could say "Mr. Clean." What do you do though when the spill is radioactive?

By Jonathan Atteberry

Nuclear meltdowns can be scary, but it's important to understand what causes them. Learn about how nuclear meltdowns work.

By Robert Lamb & Desiree Bowie

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Mathematics achieves the sublime. Sometimes, as with tessellations, it rises to art. In their simplest form, tessellations consist of a single shape that repeats over a two-dimensional plane without any gaps. Why was M.C. Escher so fixated on them?

By Nicholas Gerbis

Fractals have been around forever but were only defined in the last quarter of the 20th century. Think you can wrap your brain around how fractals work?

By Craig Haggit & Yara Simón

A world without math is unimaginable. It's a part of who we are. It's the analytical juice of our left brain. In the words of physicist Richard Feynman, even a fool can use it. So why do so many of us turn our backs on numbers?

By Robert Lamb

We're all exposed to tiny levels of radiation, but a blast of it can leave you in agony — that is, if it doesn't kill you outright. What is it, what causes it and how can we treat it?

By Ed Grabianowski

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What happens when there's too much voltage? Learn about the difference between voltage surges and spikes from this article.

By HowStuffWorks.com Contributors

For many of us, a number is just a number, a bit of information that tells you, say, what time it is. But mathematicians look at that same number and divine relationships that underlie nature itself. Ready to enter the trippy world of number theory?

By Robert Lamb

We love it. We wear it glittering around our necks and sparkling at our ears, wrists and feet. We pass it down to our children and hoard it in secret stashes. Why is this precious metal so prized?

By William Harris

Mushrooms – they're not just a pizza topping. This psychotropic fungus has guided many an adventurer on a trip. How do shrooms make their magic?

By Shanna Freeman & Nathan Chandler

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We once emptied the scent pods of male musk deer into a bottle of fragrance and doused it on, feeling like a million bucks. How has perfume changed since then?

By Susan L. Nasr

It begins with an unassuming "H" and ends in crazy elements that you've likely never heard of. But the periodic table, encapsulated on a mere sheet of paper, can be a scientist's best friend and a testament to our human drive to organize the world.

By Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.

Unlike the cheap microscopes you peered into in school, these advanced instruments can breathe rich detail into the tiny world around us, including the world of nanotechnology.

By Jonathan Atteberry

When it comes to stimulating the human central nervous system, meth can hold its shaky, toothless head high. Why is this drug so additive?

By Tom Scheve & Nathan Chandler

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If the sight of a mushroom cloud burning above the horizon suggests that the nuclear weapon-equipped world might end with a bang, then nuclear winter presents the notion that post-World War III humanity might very well die with a whimper.

By Robert Lamb

Who made it possible to light up your home at night? Thomas Edison, right? Yes, but without the work of Nikola Tesla, we would be living in a different world.

By William Harris

Criminals always leave traces behind after a crime is committed. In fact, footprints, tire tracks and tool marks are often more prevalent than fingerprints at a crime scene. What can impression evidence tell an investigator?

By John Fuller

The bloodstain from a crime scene has a story to tell, if you know how to analyze it. Then it might explain the who, what and when of a murder.

By Shanna Freeman & Melanie Radzicki McManus

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One of the most influential ideas in forensic science history is known as Locard's exchange principle. This simple, yet groundbreaking idea forever changed the way we fight crime. But who was Edmond Locard, anyway?

By John Fuller

Imagine walking through a field and stumbling upon scads of corpses, all in various states of decomposition. It's not the setting for your next nightmare, but rather a very real discipline of forensic anthropology.

By Tom Scheve

The Fibonacci sequence has been a numerical sequence for millennia. But what does it have to do with sunflower seeds or rabbits?

By Robert Lamb & Jesslyn Shields

In the comics, radiation exposure turned an average man into a pea green and angry Incredible Hulk. But in reality, what can radiation do to those exposed? Is it always a villain?

By Debra Ronca

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The list of superstar athletes accused of — and admitting to — taking performance-enhancing drugs is almost as impressive as the number of sports that they compete in. And we're not just talking about steroids.

By William Harris, Jennifer Walker-Journey & Austin Henderson

That's one seriously big number, and technically Amedeo Avogadro didn't even come up with it. So how did the Italian chemist make such an indelible (numerical) mark on the wonderful world of chemistry?

By Jonathan Atteberry