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Archimedes (c. 287 BC to 212/211 BC) lived in the Greek city-state of Syracuse,
Sicily, up to the time that it was conquered by the Romans, a conquest that led to his
death. Of his works that survive, the second of his two books of On Floating Bodies is
considered his most mature work, commonly described as a tour de force.

More than 2000 years ago, Archimedes noticed that objects seem to weigh less
when they were placed in water. This effect produced by liquid or gas causes objects
to float.
When an object is placed in water, the water exerts an upward force or the upthrust
upon the object.
This upthrust is the force produced by water in reaction to the force of the weight of
the object that is introduced in water. This upthrust or the upward force is termed
as Buoyancy. Water puts pressure from all sides of the object to support its weight.
However, the water pressure is highest at its deepest end.


The buoyancy acting on the object due to water must exactly counteract the weight
of the object, i.e. the two have equal magnitude. So, a partially immersed object
floats in a liquid when the buoyancy acting on it equals the weight of the object.
A large ship at sea floats precisely because the weight of the seawater it displaces,
i.e. buoyancy acting on the ship, equals the total weight of the ship. For a solid piece
of iron, even if Buoyancy is maximized by fully immersing it in water, its weight
always exceeds the Buoyancy of water. That is why it sinks in water.

An equivalent and useful criterion for flotation of any object is that it will float in a
liquid, if the density of the object is less than that of the liquid. This is true, for
example, for wood or ice, both of which have a lower density than water. A solid
piece of iron sinks in water because the density of iron is greater than that of water.
However, a thin walled, hollow ball of iron, with adequate volume of air trapped
within it, floats in water. In this case, the trapped air has lowered the average
density of the ball, so that it is less than that of water.

A given object may sink in one liquid, but float in another liquid. For example, a solid
piece of iron sinks in water, but it will float, partially submerged, in a pool of mercury.
We can thus conclude that mercury must have a higher density than iron, which is


A floating object displaces its own weight of the fluid in which it floats.


Air or any gas surrounding an object also behaves like a liquid, and exerts buoyancy
upon an object. As a result, the apparent weight of an object in air is slightly less
than its “true weight” measured in a vacuum. For many objects we deal with, this
buoyancy effect due to air - which equals the weight of the air displaced by the
object, is quite small when compared to the overall weight of the object itself. So, we
normally tend to ignore the effects of buoyancy due to air.

However, the buoyancy of air becomes strikingly evident when one lets go of sealed,
helium filled balloon. It doesn’t just float in air, but rapidly ascends, defying earth’s
gravity! Clearly, in this case, the buoyancy due to air must exceed the total weight of
the balloon, thereby causing a net upward force on the balloon, and enabling it to
accelerate upwards! This is a vivid demonstration of the upward direction of

A strange observation is that ,although an object made of Steel which is an alloy of

iron, sinks in water, a steel or iron needle remains floating on the water surface. Can
any of you students come up with an explanation for this strange fact?

Why boats float and elephants sink :buoyancy

How does a boat or ship carrying hundreds of pounds worth of stuff float while that
same stuff would sink to the bottom of the ocean if dumped overboard? How come
when you're in a pool and you stretch your body out flat you float. But, if you wrap
your arms around your legs and curl up into a ball you sink?

Well, it all has to do with how much water is pushing against you and a little
scientific principle called buoyancy or floatation. When you stretch out flat more
water pushes against you since your body is laid out flatter

The object must make room for its own volume by pushing aside, or displacing, an
equivalent (or equal) volume of liquid. The object must make room for its own
volume by pushing aside, or displacing, an equivalent (or equal) volume of liquid.
The object is exerting a downward force on the water and the water is therefore
exerting a upward force on the object. Of course the floating object's weight comes
into play also. The solid body floats when it has displaced just enough water to equal
its own original weight.

This principle is called buoyancy. Buoyancy is the loss in weight an object seems to
undergo when placed in a liquid, as compared to its weight in air. Archimedes'
principle states that an object fully or partly immersed in a liquid is buoyed upward
by a force equal to the weight of the liquid displaced by that object. From this
principle, he concluded that a floating object displaces an amount of liquid equal to
its own weight.

*ships floating on water :

Any change in the density of the surrounding water affects the level at which ships float.
Fresh water is less dense than salt water. So a ship floats lower in fresh water than it does
in salt water. Warm water is les dense than cold water , so a ship floats lower in the water
if the temperature rises.
A boat loaded to its maximum in cold, salty water could float dangerously low if sailing
in low warm water. To prevent this , all ships now have 'maxu\imum load' or Plimsoll
lines marked on their side



Relative density of an object = mass of object

mass of same volume of water

The concept of relative density comes by comparing the density of an object to the
density of water.
It is calculated by weighing the object in air and then placing it in water. The amount of
water that has been displaced when the object was placed in it is then weighed.
This comparison when calculated, gives the relative density of the object.


The relative density of a liquid measures:

Mass of liquid
mass of equal volume of water


Apparent loss in weight of object in liquid

Apparent loss in weight of object in water

An object immersed in meths [methanol] will experience less upthrust on it than if it was
immersed in water. It is due to the fact that meths is less dense than water so the meths
displaced by the object weighs less than the same volumes of water yet the volume
displaced by it is greater than the volume displaced by water. This is again, due to the
reason that meths is less dense than water therefore less heavier, so more volume of it
will make for eg, a 2N weight than the volume of 2N of water.
Hence, to displace this larger volume of meths the object floats lower in meths than in

By comparing the density of an object with that of the fluid it is to be immersed in , it can
be found whether it will float or sink in that fluid. The object will only float if its density
is same or less than that of the fluid.
For eg:
• Wood, petrol and ice will float in water
• Hot water will float up in cold water
• Hydrogen gas will float upwards in air
• Hot air will float upwards in cold air
• Steel will float in liquid mercury but sink in water


• Archimedes' principle applies to all objects immersed in liquid regardless of

whether they are floating or not
• The Law of flotation, however, only applies to floating objects.

Both the Law and the Principle are concerned with weight of objects and fluids.
However, when solving problems, one is often dealing with volumes. The connection
between the weigh of a substance and its volume is :
Mass = volume x density
Weight = mass x g


|Weight = volume x density x g|

These equations should be sufficient in determining the floating ability of objects .

Parts left out in this lecture upon Hydrometers and hot air balloons will be
discussed in class.