From firecrackers to nuclear bombs, it is only recently that scientists are beginning to understand the complexities of explosions, and many of our big discoveries were more by mistake than design.
Isaac Asimov would probably have been horrified at the experiments under way in a robotics lab in Slovenia.
There, a powerful robot has been hitting people over and over again in a bid to induce anything from mild to unbearable pain – in apparent defiance of the late sci-fi sage's famed first law of robotics, which states that "a robot may not injure a human being".
But the robo-battering is all in a good cause, insists Borut Povše, who has ethical approval for the work from the University of Ljubljana, where he conducted the research. He has persuaded six male colleagues to let a powerful industrial robot repeatedly strike them on the arm, to assess human-robot pain thresholds.