How Well Do You Know the Laws of Nature?


Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Pobytov/DigitalVision Vectors/gettyimages

About This Quiz

Want to see something strange? Go to Google and run a search on "laws of nature." (We'll wait.) 

See? This concept seems to have been taken over by philosophers, life coaches and personal-development gurus. They see the laws of nature as precepts that govern morality, karma and the like. However, there are essential laws of nature - the rules of physics, chemistry and biology - that are just as important to our quality of life. They affect our health, our ability to navigate the world and stay safe, to communicate with each other, and to travel. Without a proper understanding of these laws, we'd return to a world ruled by fear and superstition. We'd sacrifice animals (or even other humans) to nature gods who could supposedly bring or withhold rain, or cause earthquakes when angry. We wouldn't be able to communicate instantaneously over large distances. And, of course, you wouldn't be able to boot up a computer and take this quiz right now.

How much do you know about the rules that great minds from Aristotle to Newton to Einstein struggled to understand? We've got a quiz that'll let you test just that! Some questions will be on the "named" laws of physics or chemistry (named for their discoverer, generally). Others will be on basic, universal principles of how weather and other parts of the natural world operate. 

Are you ready? Good luck!

A very basic law of science is that matter is neither ______ nor _______.

This is a basic tenet of both chemistry and physics. To us, it looks like matter is destroyed every day, but in fact, matter only changes into other forms - sometimes radically.


How many states does matter have?

If you said "three," you were almost certainly thinking of solid, liquid and gas. Plasma is the fourth state, rarely found in nature.


Matter in its other form is ______.

Matter and energy change back and forth, from one form to the other. So if the opposite of matter is energy, what's antimatter? Umm, it's complicated.


Which of these is responsible for the revolution of the planets around the sun?

The size and speed of the planets in our solar system were likely dictated by a long-ago explosion, in which the sun threw off some of its mass. But it's gravity that keeps the planets in their orbits.


An object's gravitational force is ______ to its mass.

To be specific, the gravitational attraction between two objects is proportional to both their masses. So in the relationship between the Earth and the sun, the Earth's mass is important as well.


How many laws of motion, as laid out by Newton, are there?

Newton is Isaac Newton, of course. He's incorrectly said to have "discovered" gravity, which is a way of saying that he set out simple laws for how everything in the universe moves - acted on by gravity, one of the universes's fundamental forces.


"A body in motion will remain in motion, and a body at rest will will at rest" is the main part of Newton's ______ law.

The rest of the law says, "... unless acted on by an outside force." Why, then, does everything seem to stop moving unless repeatedly propelled? Because there's always an "outside force" in normal conditions on Earth: air resistance, gravity or friction are the main ones.


Newton's first law describes a property called ______.

The word "inertia" comes from the Latin "iners," meaning "lack of skill." "Inertia" has been borrowed by psychologists and life coaches to characterize a state of psychological paralysis or inaction.


At _________, water boils at 212 degrees F.

212 degrees Fahrenheit is an even 100 Celsius. But things are only so neat at sea level. On Everest, you'd only have to heat the water to 71 degrees C.


How many parts does an atom have?

It's confusing: We call the atom the fundamental unit of matter, but it's made up of three smaller particles - protons, neutrons and electrons.


Matter made of only one kind of atom is called a/an _____.

Chemical elements are matter in its simplest state - at least, until you get into quantum physics. (A word of advice: Don't get into quantum physics. If you see quantum physics coming, hide in a closet until it goes away.)


When atoms join together to make more complex substances, these basic units are called ____.

"Molecule" is almost literally the Latin words meaning "little mass." The suffix -culus or -cula means "little" or "cute."


Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius, or ___ degrees Fahrenheit.

Again, this is affected by altitude. But it's the usual standard you'll see on containers of antifreeze and the like.


The approximate speed of light is 186,000 miles per _____.

Technically, this is the speed of light in a vacuum, which has been measured to an accuracy of up to four parts in 1 billion. (Four parts in a billion? Come on, scientists, pull it together! We can't have that kind of uncertainty!)


True or false: The speed of light is partly dependent on the speed of the light source.

Considering that some light sources in the universe are moving really fast, it's best not to think about this one too long. Your head might start to hurt.


__________ principle says that the pressure of a fluid decreases when its speed increases.

Daniel Bernoulli was a Swiss mathematician and scientist. He came from a family of intellectuals, so he was probably just keeping up when he researched and discovered the principle that bears his name.


Bernoulli's principle was critical to the birth of what field?

Bernoulli's principle explains how an airfoil works. The top is curved while the bottom is not, meaning the air flows faster over the top, exerting less pressure on the top and more on the bottom. At sufficient speed, that pressure differential is all it takes to get a plane in the air.


Which of these is NOT a basic force affecting an airplane in flight?

Combustion is key to how an airplane's engine operates, but it's not one of the four forces of flight. These are lift and weight, which oppose each other, and thrust and drag, which do likewise.


Which of these is NOT a basic movement an airplane makes?

Okay, it's a stretch to call these laws of nature, but we just like aviation physics! Pitch is the plane's "angle of attack," or how its nose is pointed in the air. Roll is the way a plane turns, lifting one wing and lowering the other. Yaw is a subtler side-to-side movement on an imagined flat plane, controlled by a rudder called the vertical stabilizer.


Which element is common to all known life forms?

When you think of life, you might think "oxygen." But carbon is the element that seems to tie all life forms together - aerobic and anaerobic.


According to fundamental rules of biology, everything that is alive does what?

Biology differs from chemistry and physics in that biology has very few absolute laws. Consistent with this, there's no one accepted definition in biology for "life." However, the basic criteria is that a living organism must have a finite span of existence, grow, consume fuel, create waste, respond to stimuli, and reproduce itself.


Oxygen makes up what percent of the Earth's atmosphere?

Vani Hari, who blogs as "the Food Babe," lost some credibility a few years back by criticizing airlines for not pumping pure oxygen into the passenger cabins of their planes. She wrote, " ... it's mixed with nitrogen, sometimes at 50 percent." More, we'd hope - Earth's atmosphere is 78 percent nitrogen. (We assume we don't have to tell you the problem with pure oxygen in an airplane cabin.)


Which of these elements does water contain?

This is, of course, why water is called H20. While many of the earth's bodies of water are saltwater, sodium isn't an integral part of water.


An atom with a charge is called a/an ____.

When protons (positively charged) and electrons (negatively charged) are in balance, the atom is neutral. An imbalance creates a positive or negative ion.


Lightning is a large-scale example of ______.

Yup, this truly impressive and dangerous force of nature is basically the same thing that happens when you pull newly-dried clothes out of the dryer. During a storm, the clouds are moving past each other at such a rate that when electrically-charged areas collide, lightning is formed.


When air cools enough to create water vapor, it has crossed the _______.

Technically, air doesn't "create" water, but allows it to condense. You can often find the dew point for your area in the day's weather report.


Which of these has to be factored into nearly every problem in physics?

In high school physics, you probably heard your teacher mention this - that for the sake for expedience, an equation or principle doesn't take resistance into account. This is true, for example, of the truism that Earth's gravity creates an acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared. This is only true in a vacuum - a condition that, on Earth, has to be created in the lab.


What is the cause of tides?

Don't laugh about "the motion of the Earth." This was one of Galileo's early theories, that the oceans sloshed froward and back like water in a moving bowl.


What substance is known as "the universal solvent"?

It's simpler than it sounds - the substance in question is water. It dissolves a great number of materials, which is important, because this helps it to absorb and carry other substances, including nutrients that plants and animals need.


True or false: Winds are caused by the Earth's rotation.

If this were true, the wind at the equator would be about 26,000 miles an hour. That's stiff for our tastes! Fortunately, the Earth's atmosphere rotates along with the Earth.


In Einstein's famous equation, E = mc(squared), what does the "c" stand for?

Unpacked, this equation says that the energy of a body equals its mass times the speed of light squared. The speed of light is a constant, therefore can be represented by c, which is often "constant" in math or physics.


Boyle's Law says that the ______ of a gas increases as the volume of its container decreases.

Imagine squeezing a plastic bottle with a loosely-closed lid. If you think the lid might fly off, you're right, and this is Boyle's Law in action.


451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which _____ burns.

This rule of nature is famous because of the Ray Bradbury novel "Fahrenheit 451." It's about a world in which books are illegal, and "firemen" are paid by the government to find and burn them.


That two units of matter cannot occupy the same unit of space is the theory of _______.

Some rules of physics are so simple they make the reader think, "Well, duh." This is one of them, but physicists would tell you it's important to define the basics before moving on to concepts that aren't so obvious to understand.


True or false: Time travel is considered to be a possibility.

This is a really complicated subject, but Einstein's theory of special relativity allows for it. It just doesn't look anything like it does in Hollywood. The short answer is this: Jumping into a machine and coming out at the Globe Theater in time to see the first showing of "Hamlet" is almost certainly not going to be possible.


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