How to Determine the Density of Solid Materials

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Density is a key physical property of matter in fields such as chemistry and engineering. While you cannot measure the density of a solid material without the use of special equipment, you can use the definition of density to find it indirectly. Density is the mass of a substance per unit of volume, so if you measure both mass and volume of a given sample, you can calculate its density by dividing mass by volume.

    Tare the scale. Most scales, especially digital scales, have a "Tare" button that does this automatically. Other scales require manual adjustment to ensure it reads "0" before you add your substance.

    Place the solid material on the scale. The substance could be one solid block, several large chunks or even a fine powder. Record the mass. For example, you might use a small pile of iron filings, which registers 15g on the mass scale.

    Add enough water to the container to cover the material. Do not add the material yet. The container should be a beaker, a graduated cylinder or any type of vessel with volume markings you can read. Try to use metric volume measurements with metric mass measurement and English volume units with English mass units. Record the volume. In this example:

    Initial volume: 5.0mL

    Add the solid material to the water. Record the new volume. Subtract this new volume from the original volume to obtain the volume of the solid material.

    Initial volume = 5.0 mL Final volume = 6.9 mL Volume of iron = 1.9 mL

    Divide the mass by the volume of the solid material to obtain its density.

    15g / 1.906 mL = 7.87 g/mL

    Tips

    • For fine powders or soluble substances, pour the sample into the volume container without water. Pack firmly and measure the volume directly.

References

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