What is Density?

The ratio of mass to volume for a particular substance. Relevant to the kinetic energy of a moving fluid, as well as true-mass flow measurement.

Steam is a compressible fluid

∗ Density (for steam) is a function of both temperature and pressure

∗ Saturated steam: Temperature and pressure are dependent variables. Density can be calculated by measuring one variable.

∗ Superheated steam: Temperature and pressure are independent variables. You must measure both to calculate density to measure mass flow and energy

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The mass density or density of a material is its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ (the lower case Greek letter rho). Mathematically, density is defined as mass divided by volume:


where ρ is the density, m is the mass, and V is the volume. In some cases (for instance, in the United States oil and gas industry), density is also defined as its weight per unit volume, although this quantity is more properly called specific weight.

Different materials usually have different densities, so density is an important concept regarding buoyancy, purity, and packaging. Osmium and iridium are the densest known elements at standard conditions for temperature and pressure but not the densest materials.

Less dense fluids float on more dense fluids if they do not mix. This concept can be extended, with some care, to less dense solids floating on more dense fluids. If the average density (including any air below the waterline) of an object is less than water’s, it will float in water, and if it is more than water’s, it will sink in water.

In some cases, density is expressed as the dimensionless quantities specific gravity or relative density, in which case it is expressed in multiples of the density of some other standard material, usually water or air/gas. (For example, a specific gravity less than one means that the substance floats in water.)

The mass density of a material varies with temperature and pressure. Increasing the pressure on an object decreases the volume of the object and therefore increases its density. Increasing the temperature of a substance decreases its density by increasing the volume of that substance. In most materials, heating the bottom of a fluid results in convection of the heat from bottom to top of the fluid due to the decrease of the density of the heated fluid. This causes it to rise relative to more dense unheated material.

The reciprocal of the density of a substance is called its specific volume, a representation commonly used in thermodynamics. Density is an intensive property in that increasing the amount of a substance does not increase its density; rather it increases its mass.