density, ratio of the mass of a substance to its volume, expressed, for example, in units of grams per cubic centimeter or pounds per cubic foot. The density of a pure substance varies little from sample to sample and is often considered a characteristic property of the substance. Most substances undergo expansion when heated and therefore have lower densities at higher temperatures. Many substances, especially gases, can be compressed into a smaller volume by increasing the pressure acting on them. For these reasons, the temperature and pressure at which the density of a substance is measured are usually specified. The density of a gas is often converted mathematically to what it would be at a standard temperature and pressure (see STP). Water is unusual in that it expands, and thus decreases in density, as it is cooled below 3.98°C (its temperature of maximum density). Density often is taken as an indication of how
heavya substance is. Iron is denser than cork, since a given volume of iron is more massive (and weighs more) than the same volume of cork. It is often said that iron is
heavierthan cork, although a large volume of cork obviously can be more massive and thus be heavier (i.e., weigh more) than a small volume of iron. See specific gravity .
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Physics