Archimedes' principle, principle that states that a body immersed in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the displaced fluid. The principle applies to both floating and submerged bodies and to all fluids, i.e., liquids and gases. It explains not only the buoyancy of ships and other vessels in water but also the rise of a balloon in the air and the apparent loss of weight of objects underwater. In determining whether a given body will float in a given fluid, both weight and volume must be considered; that is, the relative density, or weight per unit of volume, of the body compared to the fluid determines the buoyant force. If the body is less dense than the fluid, it will float or, in the case of a balloon, it will rise. If the body is denser than the fluid, it will sink. Relative density also determines the proportion of a floating body that will be submerged in a fluid. If the body is two thirds as dense as the fluid, then two thirds of its volume will be submerged, displacing in the process a volume of fluid whose weight is equal to the entire weight of the body. In the case of a submerged body, the apparent weight of the body is equal to its weight in air less the weight of an equal volume of fluid. The fluid most often encountered in applications of Archimedes' principle is water, and the specific gravity of a substance is a convenient measure of its relative density compared to water. In calculating the buoyant force on a body, however, one must also take into account the shape and position of the body. A steel rowboat placed on end into the water will sink because the density of steel is much greater than that of water. However, in its normal, keel-down position, the effective volume of the boat includes all the air inside it, so that its average density is then less than that of water, and as a result it will float.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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