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Physical science is the study of the properties and structures of matter, space and time. This section introduces major concepts in physical science, as well as exploring special areas like special relativity.
Last Updated: Oct 28, 2008 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates
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Energy & Electricity

  • How Electricity Works
    Electricity is one of those things that completely surrounds us. For most of us, modern life would be impossible without it. So what is this mysterious stuff? Find out all about electricity.
  • Wind Power (Video)
    Watch this video about wind power, the world's fastest growing energy source, on HowStuffWorks. With the rise in natural gas and oil prices, wind wind power is the new hot technology. Learn about the future of wind power in this video from Siemens.
  • Solar Energy (Video)
    Watch this video about solar energy on HowStuffWorks. Renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic systems are being used by companies and universities to help create power and save money.
  • Understanding Electromagnetism (Video)
    Electromagnetism explains how the relationship between electricity and magnetism works.

Motion & Force

Atoms & Nuclear Science

  • Quiz Yourself: Atoms
    Think you know all there is to know about atoms? Test your knowledge with our atoms quiz.
  • How Atoms Work
    Atoms are in your body, the chair you are sitting in, your desk and even in the air. Learn about the particles that make the universe possible.
  • How Atom Smashers Work
    Atom smashers tell us about the fundamental structure of matter, the forces holding it together and the origins of the universe. Discover how scientists use particle accelerators to break atoms apart to learn about the nature of reality.
  • How Atomic Clocks Work
    When the power goes out and is later restored, how do you know what time to set your clocks to? Have you ever wondered how time is regulated? Learn how scientists determine exact time.
  • How Nuclear Fusion Reactors Work
    Fusion reactors will use abundant sources of fuel, will not leak radiation above normal background levels, and will produce less radioactive waste than current fission reactors. Learn about this promising power source.
  • How Nuclear Power Works
    From The Simpsons’ three-eyed fish to widespread political tensions, nuclear power is a much-discussed and often controversial topic. Have you ever wondered how or why we use nuclear power at all? Learn all about the good and the bad.
  • How Nuclear Radiation Works
    Nuclear radiation can be extremely beneficial or extremely harmful -- it all depends on how it's used. Learn what nuclear radiation is all about.
  • How Radiation Works
    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?

Everyday Chemistry

  • How can sugar explode?
    A February 2008 blast at the Imperial Sugar refining plant near Savannah, Ga., killed at least six people. Investigators believe the accident occurred when sugar dust exploded. How did it happen?
  • How Helium Balloons Work
    Helium balloons tend to fascinate adults and children alike (and it's not just the Donald Duck voice thing, though that is a big draw). Learn all about helium and why it floats!
  • How Luminol Works
    Have you seen investigators on crime shows who spray some stuff on a "clean" carpet and suddenly -- blood stains! Well, of all the fictional technology on TV, it turns out this stuff is real! Find out how luminol reveals the blood.
  • What if I put aluminum foil in the microwave?
    We've all been told not to put aluminum foil in the microwave. Stories of incredible explosions and fires are usually at the center of these ominous warnings. Why is that?
  • What if I touched dry ice?
    If you were to touch dry ice, it wouldn't be anything like touching regular frozen ice. So what's it like? Is it hot or cold? Is it actually a solid? And would it leave a mark?
  • What if someone released a large amount of helium into a small space?
    When you speak, a stream of air flows up your trachea from your lungs. And when you add helium, your voice rises several octaves. So if you filled the air with helium, just how high would your voice get?
  • Why do pineapple enzymes tenderize steak -- and your tongue?
    Some cooks like to pound their steak with a mallet. Other adventurous souls have tenderized meat with explosives. Why does a pineapple work just as well?
  • Biting on aluminum foil can be painful. Why?
    Biting on aluminum foil can be painful -- basically, when you bite on foil, you build a battery in your mouth. Ouch!
  • How does rust work?
    Rust is the common name for iron oxide, which is created when iron bonds with oxygen. In fact, pure iron is only rarely found in nature because it interacts with oxygen so easily.
  • If water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, why can't we breathe underwater?
    If water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, why can't we breathe underwater? It has to do with how molecules combine and how the human lung functions.
  • Is it harmful to breathe 100-percent oxygen?
    We need oxygen to live, so it seems to me that if we got more oxygen, we would be better off. Is it harmful to breathe 100-percent oxygen? What will happen?
  • What makes glass transparent?
    What makes glass transparent? Learn how liquid and gas molecules determine whether you can see straight through things.
  • Why do newspapers turn yellow over time?
    Why do newspapers turn yellow over time?
  • How does chlorine bleach work?
    I recently used chlorine bleach to clean the siding on my house, and I was amazed at how well it worked! What is bleach? How does it remove stains? Is the chlorine in bleach the same as the chlorine in drinking water or in swimming pools?

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Other Guides

  • Earth Science Guide
    Earth Science is a wide, scientific discipline covering all facets of how the earth works. Learn about weather, global warming, natural disasters and how the world’s oceans function.
  • Life Science Guide
    From the smallest microbe to the largest mammal, Life Science explores the origins, evolution and expansion of life in all its forms. Explore a wide range of topics from animal profiles to genetics and conservation.

Waves & Sound

  • How RADAR Works
    Radar seems to have infinite uses: Police use it to clock your speed, NASA uses it to follow satellites, meteorologists use it to track storms and the military uses it to track the enemy ... Learn all about radar technology!
  • How Acoustic Levitation Works
    The idea that something so intangible can lift objects can seem unbelievable, but it's a real phenomenon. Learn how acoustic levitation takes advantage of the properties of sound to cause solids, liquids and heavy gases to float.
  • Why can you hear the ocean when holding a seashell to your ear?
    Do you remember holding a large conch shell up to your ear to hear the ocean? Why does this work even when you're far away from the sea?
  • How Light Works
    When we see an object, we are actually seeing light -- light that somehow left the object and reached our eyes. We also encounter light in things that produce it, from light bulbs, to lasers, to lightning bugs, to the sun.
  • How Holograms Work
    If you want to see a hologram, you don't have to look much farther than your wallet. But the most impressive holograms are large scale and illuminated with lasers or displayed in a darkened room with carefully directed lighting.
  • How Lasers Work
    Lasers are used in CD players, dental drills, eye surgery, and even tattoo removal. But what exactly is a laser? There are numerous types, but all lasers work basically the same way. Learn how they generate such concentrated beams of light.
  • How Mirages Work
    You're driving down the road on a sunny day, and you see a puddle of water coming up. You look again and it's gone! What happened? Learn what causes different kinds of mirages.

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