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School-college Physics Notes: Thermal energy 5.2 Density

Density & particle theory: 5.2 How to measure the density of an irregular shaped solid object - apparatus, method and calculation

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INDEX physics notes: Density, particle models, factors affecting density

5.2 Measuring the density of an irregularly shaped solid object and calculation

By some means you need to know a specific mass and volume of a material to calculate its density.

You need to relate the methods described to the picture diagram, which I've repeated a few times.


Any lump of a solid material can be accurately weighed on an electronic balance (2b) on the diagram above (usually grams, g).

Don't forget to tare the mass balance to zero before placing the object on it.

If the solid is a lump with an irregular shape (and insoluble in water!) you can use a Eureka can (displacement can) to measure its volume.

The eureka can (1a) on diagram, is filled with water above the spout and any excess drains off into the measuring cylinder so that the water level is just under the spout.

Then empty the collection measuring cylinder and place it under the spout again.

You then carefully lower the object, attached to a very fine thread, into the water.

As the object enters the water, the water level rises and a volume of water equal to the volume of the object is displaced from the eureka can down the spout and measured on collection in the measuring cylinder (1b) on diagram.

Only measure the volume when the spout has stopped dripping, otherwise you won't measure the correct volume!

You cannot use this method if the object has a density <1.0 g/cm3 (1000 kg/m3), because it floats on water and only partially displaces the water. Repeat several times and calculate the average volume measured.

Then apply the density formula: ρ = m v

Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for density

How to measure the density of an irregularly shaped solid object apparatus method procedure calculation solid object of irregular shape


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