Back To Course

Earth Science 101: Earth Science24 chapters | 167 lessons | 16 flashcard sets

Watch short & fun videos
**Start Your Free Trial Today**

Start Your Free Trial To Continue Watching

As a member, you'll also get unlimited access to over

Your next lesson will play in
10 seconds

Lesson Transcript

Instructor:
*John Simmons*

John has taught college science courses face-to-face and online since 1994 and has a doctorate in physiology.

Mineral density and specific gravity are similar properties used by mineralologists to identify minerals. This lesson describes a common practice used to determine density and specific gravity.

Have you ever been fooled by the question, 'Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?' Well obviously, they have the same weight. Well, how about this question, 'Which weighs more, a liter of water or a liter of bricks?' The answer to this question is not so obvious. It requires an understanding of **density**, the amount of mass in a certain volume of material.

As brick has more mass per unit volume, it has a greater density. As the brick is more dense, it will sink in water. Mineralogists have often used a similar property called **specific gravity** to describe the density of a mineral. Specific gravity is simply a ratio of the mineral's mass to the mass of an equal volume of water. Different minerals have different densities and thus different specific gravities. This lesson will describe how density and specific gravity are used to differentiate between minerals.

Let's pretend you find an unknown specimen in your backyard. It's a heavy specimen, and you want to know what it is. As a novice mineralogist, you head to the laboratory to measure its density. Well, what to do first?

You need to determine the mass of the sample, so you weigh it on a scale and find its mass to be 150 grams. Now that you've identified the mass, you need to determine how much water the sample displaces. Fortunately, your sample is small enough to put in a beaker of water that's calibrated on the side. Before you place the sample in the water, you note the level at 100 milliliters, or 100 cubic centimeters (cc). After you place the sample in the water, you notice the level rises to 120 cc; therefore, 20 cc of water is displaced. This displaced volume of water is equal to the volume of the sample; therefore, your sample has a volume of 20 cc.

Now you're ready to calculate density. Simply divide the mass of the sample by the volume of the water displaced. Remember, the volume of the water displaced is equal to the volume of the sample.

So, density = mass / volume of water displaced. In our case, density = 150 grams / 20 cc of water. Density = 7.5 grams/cc.

Checking your mineral density handbook, you see that galena, the common form of lead, has a mineral density that ranges from 7.2 to 7.6. While the density does not provide definitive identification, you can use other properties to determine its identity definitely. For example, the sample has a metallic luster, which is characteristic of galena.

Now that we have determined the density of our sample, it is a piece of cake to determine its specific gravity. Recall that specific gravity is simply the ratio of the sample mass to the mass of an equal volume of water. The density of our sample is 7.5 grams/cc. Our sample has a specific gravity of 7.5. Well, how do we know this? Recall that 20 cc of water was displaced by the sample.

Now as we've learned in previous lessons, each cubic centimeter, or milliliter of water, has a density of 1 gram/cc; therefore, 20 cc of water has a mass of 20 grams. To determine the specific gravity of our sample, we simply divide the mass of the sample (that is, 150 grams) by the mass of the same volume of water, which would be 20 grams.

So, specific gravity = 150 grams of the sample / 20 grams of water. Specific gravity = 7.5.

Now, as the units are the same in the numerator and the denominator; that is, grams, they cancel each other out, and this gives us a value with no units.

As it turns out, most common rock-forming minerals have a specific gravity between two and three. For example, quartz has a specific gravity of 2.65. Our sample in this discussion, along with other metallic minerals, are more than twice as dense. Gold is more dense, with 24-karat gold coming in around 20. Platinum has a specific gravity of about 22. Now that's dense! Graphite, used to make pencil lead, and gypsum, used to make wallboard, are less dense minerals with a specific gravity just over two.

In summary, **density** and **specific gravity** are properties used to help identify minerals. **Density** is a measure of the mass of a certain volume of the sample. **Specific gravity** is a unitless measure, and it is the ratio of the mass of a substance to the mass of an equal volume of water. Most rock-forming minerals have a specific gravity between two and three; for example, quartz has a specific gravity of 2.65. Metallic minerals are far more dense; for example, galena, as we've talked about in our discussion, has a specific gravity of 7.5, and platinum has a specific gravity around 22.

After finishing this lesson, you should be able to:

- Define density and how it relates to weight
- Understand how specific gravity relates to density in minerals
- Learn how to calculate density and specific gravity through water displacement

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.

Create your account

Already a member? Log In

BackDid you know… We have over 79 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Back To Course

Earth Science 101: Earth Science24 chapters | 167 lessons | 16 flashcard sets

- Optical Properties of Minerals: Luster, Light Transmission, Color & Streak 6:33
- Crystal Shape of Minerals: Forms and Types 4:58
- Mineral Strength: Tenacity, Hardness, Cleavage & Fracture 7:02
- Mineral Density & Specific Gravity: Definition and Properties 6:10
- Non-silicate Minerals: Chemical Classifications & Examples 4:59
- Rocks and Minerals: Definitions and Differences 7:12
- Rock Cycle: Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic Rocks 8:08
- Types of Rocks: The Three Major Rock Groups 6:32
- Go to Minerals and Rocks

- Go to Glaciers

- Go to Oceans

- Go to Earthquakes

- Physics 111: Physics I
- Alberta Education Diploma - Mathematics 30-1: Exam Prep & Study Guide
- EQAO Grade 6 Language: Test Prep & Practice
- EQAO Grade 3 Language: Test Prep & Practice
- EQAO Grade 3 Math: Test Prep & Practice
- Sentence Writing for Kids
- Literary Elements for Kids
- Understanding Work, Energy & Power
- Math Basics for Physics
- Mechanical Waves
- NATA Certification Requirements
- What is on the TABE Test?
- Cyberbullying Organizations
- Study.com and TESU
- Is AP Environmental Science Hard?
- How to Learn English Quickly
- Grants for Adult Education

- Alphabet Lessons for Kindergarten and Preschool
- Control Unit: Definition & Design
- What is an Attribute in Computer Programming? - Definition & Examples
- Cross-Cultural Marketing: Definition & Overview
- Activities for Teaching Kids Personal Space Skills
- Identifying Your Point of View: Lesson for Kids
- The Abilene Paradox - Definition & Examples
- How to Solve a Quadratic Equation by Graphing
- Quiz & Worksheet - Aponeurosis
- Quiz & Worksheet - The Geats in Beowulf
- Quiz & Worksheet - Beowulf vs. Sir Gawain
- Quiz & Worksheet - Imagery in Beowulf
- Quiz & Worksheet - Calculating Price Volatility
- Jim Crow Laws List & Flashcards
- My Side of the Mountain Flashcards

- 9th Grade English: Help and Review
- Weather and Climate Science: Certificate Program
- Glencoe U.S. History - The American Vision: Online Textbook Help
- Business 113: Business Communication
- ELM: CSU Math Study Guide
- Workplace Productivity & Motivation: Homework Help
- Factitious Disorders: Help and Review
- Quiz & Worksheet - Multiplication & Exponents
- Quiz & Worksheet - Unit Price & Total Cost
- Quiz & Worksheet - Determining Maximum and Minimum Values of a Graph
- Quiz & Worksheet - Solving Improper Integrals

- Estimating a Difference by Rounding
- The Foraker Act: Definition, Summary & Significance
- Homeschooling in Australia
- What Is the International Reading Association?
- Fun Math Games for 3rd Grade
- How to Pass the Physics Regents Exam
- International Reading Association Standards
- Best Books for Young Adults
- How to Apply for Work Study
- What Is Continuing Education?
- How to Fill Out the PMP Application Form
- Pros & Cons of Homeschooling

Browse by subject