What is Density in Science – Definition

What is Density in Science. In words, the density (ρ) of a substance is the total mass (m) of that substance divided by the total volume (V) occupied by that substance. Thermal Engineering

What is Density in Science

Density - Gas - Liquid - Solid
Typical densities of various substances at atmospheric pressure.

Density is defined as the mass per unit volume. It is an intensive property, which is mathematically defined as mass divided by volume:

ρ = m/V

In words, the density (ρ) of a substance is the total mass (m) of that substance divided by the total volume (V) occupied by that substance. The standard SI unit is kilograms per cubic meter (kg/m3). The Standard English unit is pounds mass per cubic foot (lbm/ft3). The density (ρ) of a substance is the reciprocal of its specific volume (ν).

ρ = m/V = 1/ρ

Specific volume is an intensive variable, whereas volume is an extensive variable. The standard unit for specific volume in the SI system is cubic meters per kilogram (m3/kg). The standard unit in the English system is cubic feet per pound mass (ft3/lbm).

See also: How density influences reactor reactivity

Density - Important property in gamma rays shielding
See also: Shielding of Gamma Radiation

In short, effective shielding of gamma radiation is in most cases based on use of materials with two following material properties:

  • high-density of material. 
  • high atomic number of material  (high Z materials)

However, low-density materials and low Z materials can be compensated with increased thickness, which is as significant as density and atomic number in shielding applications.

A lead is widely used as a gamma shield.  Major advantage of lead shield is in its compactness due to its higher density. On the other hand depleted uranium is much more effective due to its higher Z.  Depleted uranium is used for shielding in portable gamma ray sources.

In nuclear power plants shielding of a reactor core can be provided by materials of reactor pressure vessel, reactor internals (neutron reflector). Also heavy concrete is usually used to shield both neutrons and gamma radiation.

Density of Nuclear Matter

Nuclear density is the density of the nucleus of an atom. It is the ratio of mass per unit volume inside the nucleus. Since atomic nucleus carries most of atom’s mass and atomic nucleus is very small in comparison to entire atom, the nuclear density is very high.

The nuclear density for a typical nucleus can be approximately calculated from the size of the nucleus and from its mass. Typical nuclear radii are of the order 10−14 m. Assuming spherical shape, nuclear radii can be calculated according to following formula:

r = r0 . A1/3

where r0 = 1.2 x 10-15 m = 1.2 fm

For example, natural uranium consists primarily of isotope 238U (99.28%), therefore the atomic mass of uranium element is close to the atomic mass of 238U isotope (238.03u). Its radius of this nucleus will be:

r = r0 . A1/3 = 7.44 fm.

Assuming it is spherical, its volume will be:

V = 4πr3/3 = 1.73 x 10-42 m3.

The usual definition of nuclear density gives for its density:

ρnucleus = m / V = 238 x 1.66 x 10-27 / (1.73 x 10-42) = 2.3 x 1017 kg/m3.

Thus, the density of nuclear material is more than 2.1014 times greater than that of water. It is an immense density. The descriptive term nuclear density is also applied to situations where similarly high densities occur, such as within neutron stars. Such immense densities are also found in neutron stars.

Density of Neutron Star
The densest material found on earth is the metal osmium, but its density pales by comparison to the densities of exotic astronomical objects such as white dwarf stars and neutron stars.

A neutron star is the collapsed core of a large star (usually of a red giant). Neutron stars are the smallest and densest stars known to exist and they are rotating extremely rapidly. A neutron star is basically a giant atomic nucleus about 11 km in diameter made especially of neutrons. It is believed that under the immense pressures of a collapsing massive stars going supernova it is possible for the electrons and protons  to combine to form neutrons via electron capture, releasing a huge amount of neutrinos.

They are so dense that one teaspoon of its material would have a mass over 5.5×1012 kg. It is assumed they have densities of 3.7 × 1017 to 6 × 1017 kg/m3, which is comparable to the approximate density of an atomic nucleus of 2.3 × 1017 kg/m3.

Reactor Physics and Thermal Hydraulics:
  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. Todreas Neil E., Kazimi Mujid S. Nuclear Systems Volume I: Thermal Hydraulic Fundamentals, Second Edition. CRC Press; 2 edition, 2012, ISBN: 978-0415802871
  6. Zohuri B., McDaniel P. Thermodynamics in Nuclear Power Plant Systems. Springer; 2015, ISBN: 978-3-319-13419-2
  7. Moran Michal J., Shapiro Howard N. Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics, Fifth Edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2006, ISBN: 978-0-470-03037-0
  8. Kleinstreuer C. Modern Fluid Dynamics. Springer, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4020-8670-0.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, THERMODYNAMICS, HEAT TRANSFER, AND FLUID FLOW. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1, 2 and 3. June 1992.

See also:


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