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8 FLOATING, SINKING AND DENSITY

We all know that sticks float and stones sink. Some


people say that light things float and heavy things sink,
but that cannot be true. A huge tree trunk floats and a
small stone sinks! The real difference between
materials like wood (which float), and materials like
stone and metal (which sink), is that wood is much
lighter when we compare objects that are the same
size. When we think about the mass of something, as
compared to its size, we are thinking about its density.

Density. The density of any material is the mass of one unit volume of the material. We normally
measure mass in grams and volume in cubic centimetres, so a common unit of density is grams
per cubic centimetre, g/cm3 (or g cm-3). The SI unit of density is kg/m3, but this is rarely used.

To find the density of an object, we first measure


its mass in grams and its volume in cubic Mass (in grams)
centimetres. Then we calculate the density of the Density = --------------------- g/cm3
object by dividing its mass by its volume. Density
= mass volume. Volume (in cm3)

Example 1: A small block of wood has a length of 5


cm, a breadth of 2 cm and a height of 2 cm. The
mass of the block is 10 g. What is the density of
the wood?

The mass of the block is 10 g


The volume of the block is 5 2 2 = 20 cm3
The density of the wood is 10 20 = 0.5 g/cm3

Example 2: A steel teaspoon has a mass of 16 g.


When it is dropped into a measuring cylinder of
water, the level of the water goes up from 70 cm3
to 72 cm3. Find the density of the steel.

The mass of the spoon is 16 g


The volume of the spoon is 72 70 = 2 cm3
Material Density g/cm3 Floats or sinks
The density of the steel is 16 2 = 8 g/cm3
Air 0.001 floats
Floating and sinking. The table shows the Aluminium 2.7 sinks
densities of some common materials. Notice Cooking oil 0.8 floats
that the density of water is exactly 1.0 g/cm3. Copper 8.9 sinks
Glass 2.5 sinks
Now look at the density of things that float and Iron 7.9 sinks
the density of things that sink. Try to make a Lead 11.3 sinks
generalisation about floating and sinking in Mercury 13.6 sinks
water. You should be able to see that: Things Petrol 0.7 floats
that float in water have a density of less than 1 Ice 0.9 floats (just)
g/cm3, and things that sink in water have a Stone (silica) 2.6 sinks
density of more than 1 g/cm3. Water 1.0 -
Wood (hard) 0.8 floats
A ship made of iron floats because it is full of Wood (soft) 0.5 floats
air. If we divide the mass of the ship by its
volume, including all the space that is full of air, the average density of the ship is less than 1
g/cm3.
4. 10 cm3 of a plastic called PVC has a mass of 12 g;
1. (i) What is density? (ii) In what units is density 10 cm3 of another plastic called polythene has a
measured? (iii) How can we calculate density? mass of 9 g. Do these two plastics float or sink?

2. What is the density of water? What rule tells us


whether something will float in water or not?
3. Why does an empty cup float, but a cup full of
water sink?

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