Notepadwould work) and add commands that change the appearance of the end product. To put it in short, LaTeX is a so called
markup languagecomparable to HTML. A big advantage to
conventionaltext processing programs is that LaTeX can handle very large documents trouble-free. Besides, it does not depend on a specific operating system. The files are not stored in a proprietary format, but as plain text, readable by any editor. Thus, you just need a LaTeX system and a text editor—you can find some further information at TUG (the TeX Users Group).
LaTeX is eminently suitable for scientific publications due to the possibility to add a bibliography and citations automatically with the help of BibTeX. You can gather some more information on that topic by reading my BibTeX pages.