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Front. Mech. Eng.

2016, 11(1): 26–32

DOI 10.1007/s11465-016-0368-z


Hidetaka KUROKI

How did Archimedes discover the law of buoyancy by


© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Abstract After Archimedes and Vitruvius era, for more buoyancy though he knew Archimedes’ great achieve-
than 2000 years, it has been believed that the displaced ments well, suggesting that Archimedes found the density
water measurement of golden crown is impossible, and at of things at his Eureka moment.
his Eureka moment, Archimedes discovered the law of More than 1500 years later, Galileo Galilei wrote his first
buoyancy (Proposition 7 of his principles) and proved the short treatise entitled “La Bilancetta” (The Little Balance)
theft of a goldsmith by weighing the golden crown in in 1586 [3] and stated his disbelief in the story of Vitruvius.
water. Galileo thought that the measurement of displaced (or
A previous study showed that a small amount of overflowed) water volume by a golden crown (maybe the
displaced water was able to be measured with enough shape was a wreath) was impossible. Finally, he concluded
accuracy by the introduced method. Archimedes measured that Archimedes had found the law of buoyancy and
the weight of displaced water. He did not find the law of measured the weight of those things in water to prove the
buoyancy but rather specific gravity of things at the theft of a goldsmith at the moment.
moment. Even in modern times, it is believed that the measure-
After which, Archimedes continued to measure the ment of displaced water volume is impossible [4].
specific gravity of various solids and fluids. Through these The rationale is as follows. The golden crown is
measurements, he reached the discovery of the law of supposed to be 1000 g, and 30% of the gold of the
buoyancy directly by experiment. In this paper, the process crown was stolen and replaced with silver. The volume
to the discovery of Archimedes’ principle (Proposition 5) difference between the golden crown and the same weight
is presented. of a pure gold lump will be only 13 cm3 if the opening
diameter of the vessel is 20 cm; the difference of 13 cm3 is
Keywords Archimedes’ principle, buoyancy, specific only 0.4 mm in water height. Such a small difference
gravity, Eureka, Vitruvius, displaced water, balance, cannot be measured.
floating body Furthermore, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica says
“The story that he determined the proportion of gold and
silver in a wreath made for Hieron by weighing it in water
1 Introduction is probably true” [5].
Numerous books or writings about the Eureka story
Archimedes ran through a street in Syracuse naked with have been made through more than 2000 years worldwide.
much joy shouting “Eureka! (I found it)” repeatedly. This As a result, these conclusions were made, and there seem
story was reported by Vitruvius, an architect during the 1st to be no comments about the process to the great discovery.
century BC, in his book Ten Books on Architecture [1,2]. A paper titled “What did Archimedes find at “Eureka”
Archimedes has been widely believed to be the one that moment?” was presented at the Archimedes 2010
discovered the law of buoyancy at that time. conference in Syracuse [6]. In the paper, the following
However, Vitruvius did not mention about the law of items are pointed:
1) The displaced water volume measurement by a
golden crown is possible with enough accuracy by the
Received July 19, 2015; accepted October 20, 2015 introduced method through the use of items that Archi-
Hidetaka KUROKI ( )✉ medes could prepare.
2) Archimedes could not express displaced water
Okazaki, Aichi-ken 444-0076, Japan
E-mail: hide-emon5303@outlook.com volume numerically. There were no glass-made accurate
Hidetaka KUROKI. The process from the Eureka moment to the discovery of Archimedes’ principle 27

graduated measuring-cylinders in his era. Then, he 3 Method of displaced water volume

measured the displaced water weights by a balance. (weight) measurement
3) He proved the theft of the goldsmith through this
measurement. Then Vitruvius’ story should be recognized 3.1 Vessel for measurement of displaced water
as the fact (the method of the story was not correct).
The conclusion of the paper is that what Archimedes A vessel having a beak at one end is used, with an opening
found at ‘Eureka’ moment was the specific gravity of diameter of 21 cm (Fig. 1). The diameter is large enough to
things (SG). put the golden crown in. A thin triangle-shaped tongue is
After this moment, he continued measuring the SG of attached under the beak (Fig. 2). A Roberval balance
various solids and liquids. Through these measurements, (Murakami Kouki Co. ltd type: MS-1, Max. 1kg,) is used
he reached the law of buoyancy well known as the to weigh the displaced water (Archimedes would use an
Archimedes’ principle. old shaped balance).
In this paper, it is shown how he discovered the principle
by experiment.

2 Measurement of specific gravity

After the Eureka moment, Archimedes continued to
measure the SG of various kinds of things. In this paper,
the following objects are measured:
1) Solids heavier than water: A gold lump, a silver lump
and a golden crown mixed with 25% silver (GC25S) and a
natural stone. The gold lump, silver lump and GC25S were
replaced with the combination of glass balls having the
similar volume.
2) Solids lighter than water: A beeswax lump which was
widely used from ancient era for lighting or bonding things Fig. 1 Vessel having a beak
(e.g., as used by Icarus in Greek mythology to bond his
wings), a wood block coated with beeswax to avoid liquid 3.2 Measuring method using overflow finish point (OFP)
absorption, and a glass cup (many kinds of glass ware were
used in the Archimedes era). A measuring method using OFP is as follows:
3) Liquids: Sea water drawn from the Japan Sea, 10% 1) A cup is put under the tongue to receive water.
salt water where 10 wt.% of salt is dissolved, and Italian 2) Water is added gradually to the vessel until overflow
olive oil (916 g/l, as derived from the bottle label) begins (Fig. 2, left).
These solids and liquids could also be prepared by 3) At first, water flows out rapidly. The flow decreases
Archimedes with no difficulties. slowly, then turns to drops.

Fig. 2 Water overflow and stop at OFP

28 Front. Mech. Eng. 2016, 11(1): 26–32

4) The water drop intervals become longer. Then, the 4.2.1 Measurement at forcibly sunk condition
flow stops (Fig. 2, right). This is the basic measuring point
(OFP). This point may be considered as the ‘very brim’ Floating objects are sunk forcibly by using a 3-needle-
point that Vitruvius wrote in his book. device and the displaced water is measured. The results are
5) Next, the cup is changed to a measuring cup to receive shown in Table 2.
the displaced water.
6) An object is put into the vessel. It should not be 4.2.2 Measurement at naturally floating condition
placed so roughly, but also not so quietly.
7) At first, water flows out rapidly. The flow decreases The floating objects are measured at a naturally floating
slowly and changes to water drops, then stops at OFP. condition (Table 3).
8) The water cup is taken off and its weight is measured The weights of the floating objects are found just the
by a balance. By using a counter weight equal to the empty same as displaced water weights.
cup, only the displaced water is easily weighed as shown in
Fig. 3. 4.3 Liquids
9) The measured object is taken out from the vessel and
wiped off to dry for the next measurement. The displaced liquid weight by each object is divided by
the displaced water weight that is measured in former
measurements. Here, these solid objects are used only for
4 Specific gravity measurement of various volumetric bodies.
4.3.1 Sea water
The results in each table are the average of 10 measure-
The SG of sea water is shown in Table 4, which is
determined as 1.02.
4.1 Solid objects heavier than water
4.3.2 10% salt water
The weight of a measured object is divided by the
displaced water weight. The SG values in Table 1 is The SG of 10% salt water is determined as 1.08 (it is found
clarified by Archimedes by this experiment for the first as lighter than 1.10) as shown in Table 5.
time in the world.
4.3.3 Olive oil
4.2 Solid objects lighter than water
The liquid characteristics of olive oil are much different
Three floating objects are tested (Fig. 4). from water, such as viscosity, surface tension, SG, etc.

Fig. 3 Water weight measurement

Hidetaka KUROKI. The process from the Eureka moment to the discovery of Archimedes’ principle 29

Table 1 Specific gravity measurement of the chosen heavier solid In the Archimedes era, a clepsydra is used for time
objects keeping. It is a vessel having a hole at the bottom. And it
Object Weight/g Displaced water/g Specific gravity sinks in water for an arranged time length. An example of
Gold lump 1000.0 51.4 19.5 clepsydra is shown in Fig. 7. This sinks around 2 min after
Silver lump 1000.0 95.3 10.5
immersed in water. Archimedes might use a clepsydra like
this (in this paper, a countdown timer is used). The results
GC25S 1000.0 65.3 15.3
of Table 6 are the average of 5 measurement data.
Natural stone 610.1 227.2 2.7 The SG of olive oil is determined as 0.91. As the
beeswax is 0.95 heavier than olive oil, it sinks.
From these results, the SG of various solids and liquids
Therefore, its measuring condition is also different from are clearly presented. However, Archimedes did not
water. The tongue attached under the beak of the vessel mention anything regarding this in his writings. The
needs to be a large triangle shape (its width at the end of the physical properties, such as SG, may not be worthwhile for
beak is 20 mm and its length is 40 mm) and a time of more him.
than 20 min is needed to finish dropping.
Figure 5 shows the dropped olive oil weight curves after 4.3.4 Notice of principle of floatation by Archimedes
the changing point of continuous flow to drops. The results
show the different curves. In item 4.2.2, the weights of floating objects are the same
Figure 6 shows the curves on 2 to 20 min (cleared to 0 g as the weights of displaced water. “Maybe, this is the
at 2 min), which show very similar curves. At 20 min, their principle of floatation” Archimedes noticed. “Any solid
difference is only 1.3 g. Then the 2 min after changing lighter than water will, if placed in water, be so far
point is chosen as the end point for the olive oil flow. immersed that the weight of the solid will be equal to the

Fig. 4 Floating objects: Glass cup, beeswax, and wood block

Table 2 Specific gravity measurement at forcibly sunk condition Table 3 Displaced water measurement of floating objects
Object Weight/g Displaced water/g Specific gravity Object Weight/g Displaced water/g Difference/g
Beeswax 261.9 275.5 0.95 Beeswax 261.9 261.8 –0.1
Wood block 132.9 303.7 0.44 Wood block 132.9 133.1 + 0.8
Glass cup 210.0 – – Glass cup 210.0 210.0 0.0

Table 4 Specific gravity measurement of sea water

Object Displaced sea water/g Displaced water/g Specific gravity
Gold lump 52.5 51.4 1.02 Table 5 Specific gravity measurement of 10% salt water
Silver lump 97.5 95.3 1.02 Displaced 10% Displaced
Object Specific gravity
salt water/g water/g
GC25S 65.9 65.3 1.01
Gold lump 55.3 51.4 1.08
Beeswax* 282.1 261.8 1.02
Silver lump 101.6 95.3 1.07
Wood block* 309.3 303.7 1.02
Natural stone 244.5 227.2 1.08
*: Beeswax and wood block are forcibly sunk by 3-needle-device.
30 Front. Mech. Eng. 2016, 11(1): 26–32

Fig. 5 Olive oil weight curve after flow changing

Fig. 6 Olive oil weight curve 2 to 20 min

Table 6 Specific gravity measurement of olive oil

Object Displaced olive oil/g Displaced water/g Specific gravity
Gold lump 45.7 51.4 0.89
Silver lump 86.4 95.3 0.91
Natural stone 207.0 227.2 0.91
Beeswax* 251.6 261.8 0.91
Wood block** 276.3 303.7 0.91

*: Beeswax sinks in olive oil; **: Wood Block is forcibly sunk by 3-needle-

4.4.1 Sea water

Fig. 7 Clepsydra, as 2 min timer The displaced liquid weight is measured in sea water being
SG = 1.02. As shown in Table 7, difference is only – 0.5 to
weight of water displaced”. However, only water is 0.4 g. Displaced sea water weight is also equal to object
measured so far. Other liquids are tested for generalization. weight.

4.4 Floating object measurement in various liquids 4.4.2 10% salt water

The displaced liquid weights by floating objects are Displaced liquid weight is measured in 10% salt water
measured in various liquids having different SG. being SG = 1.08. As shown in Table 8, difference is at most
Hidetaka KUROKI. The process from the Eureka moment to the discovery of Archimedes’ principle 31

Table 7 Displaced liquid measurement by floating object in sea water

Object Weight/g Displaced sea water/g Difference/g
Beeswax 261.9 262.3 0.4
Wood block 132.9 132.9 0.0
Glass cup 210.0 209.5 – 0.5

Table 8 Displaced liquid measurement by floating object of 10% salt

Object Weight/g Displaced 10% salt water/g Difference/g
Beeswax 261.9 263.1 1.2
Wood block 132.9 134.4 1.5
Glass cup 210.0 211.2 1.2

1.5 g. Displaced 10% salt water weight is also equal to

object weight.

4.4.3 Olive oil Fig. 8 Volume difference of displaced liquid by glass cup

The displaced liquid weight is measured in olive oil being

SG = 0.91. As shown in Table 9, difference is only up to
– 1.1 g. Displaced olive oil weight is also equal to object

Table 9 Displaced liquid measurement by floating object olive oil

Object Weight/g Displaced olive oil/g Difference/g
Beeswax 261.9 (Sink) —
Wood block 132.9 131.8 – 1.1
Glass cup 210.0 209.8 – 0.2

4.4.4 Volume of displaced liquid

The displaced liquid weighted by floating objects are

recognized to have the same weights in all liquids. Fig. 9 Displaced liquid (olive oil) is balancing with the floating
However, their volumes are significantly different. An object (glass cup)
example is shown in Fig. 8. Reading volume by the scale
of a 250 cm3 mess-cylinder is not accurate. Volume fluid displaced” [7]. The results obtained through above
measurement is not easy even in nowadays. experiments in this paper are showing just the same as
these words.
4.5 Discovery of the law of buoyancy
4.6 Discovery of Proposition 7
It can be said that the weight of a floating object is the same
as the displaced liquid weight in all liquids having different After discovery of Proposition 5, Archimedes continued
SGs. By using a balance, when the displaced liquid cup is measuring weights of heavier solids by placing them in
placed on one dish and a floating object is placed on liquid and hanging them on a thin string. He confirmed that
another dish, they will be in balance as seen in Fig. 9. the decreased weight from its weight in the air is the same
After these experiments, Archimedes reached the as displaced liquids. On Floating Bodies Book 1 Proposi-
discovery of the law of buoyancy. His book On Floating tion 7 says, “A solid heavier than a fluid will, if placed in it,
Bodies Book 1 Proposition 5 says, “Any solid lighter than descend to the bottom of the fluid, and the solid will, when
a fluid will, if placed in the fluid, be so far immersed that weighed in the fluid, be lighter than its true weight by the
the weight of the solid will be equal to the weight of the weight of the fluid displaced”.
32 Front. Mech. Eng. 2016, 11(1): 26–32

5 Flow from Eureka moment to the The process to the discovery has not been explained until
discovery now.
However, in this paper, the process from the Eureka
moment to the discovery of Proposition 5 is clarified in this
Even nowadays, the process by which Archimedes
discovered the law of buoyancy has not been made clear.
Afterwards, Archimedes measured the weight of heavier
In the previous and current paper [6], the process from
solids in liquids and found Proposition 7. This is a very
the Eureka moment to the discovery is shown.
accurate method even in nowadays. It is used for
The flow is summarized as follows: investigating the purity of noble metal accessories.
1) In a bath, Archimedes suddenly got the solution of Archimedes’ interest was mainly in the mathematical
King Hieron’s problem and ran naked on a Syracuse street, principle. He also made many great developments on the
shouting “Eureka”. field of mechanics. His achievements are recognized as the
2) He measured a small amount of the displaced water of
important foundations for modern mechanics.
the crown by using a certain method.
This paper clearly showed the process on how
3) There were no glass-made measuring cylinders in his
Archimedes discovered the law of buoyancy, one of his
era. Thus, he measured the weight of the displaced water.
great achievements, through an experiment.
He determined the purity of the golden crown and proved
the theft of the goldsmith.
4) At the Eureka moment, Archimedes found the SG of
5) After this moment, he continued to determine the SG
of many kinds of solids and liquids. 1. Pollio M V. Ten Books on Architecture (trans. Morgan M H).
6) During these measurements, he noticed that the Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010 (Original work published
displaced water weights are the same as floating bodies. 1st century BC)
7) By conducting experiments on other liquids having 2. Pollio M V. Kenchikusho (in Japanese, trans. Morita Keiichi). Tokyo:
different SGs, he reached the discovery of the law of Toukai University Press, 1979 (Original work published 1st century
buoyancy (Proposition 5). BC)
3. Galileo Galilei. The Little Balance (in Japanese, trans. Toshiyuki
Fujita). Skaino-Meicho, 1975, 21: 36–41 (Original work published
6 Conclusions 1586)
4. Archimedes Homepage by Prof. Chris Rorres of Drexel University.
After the Archimedes and Vitruvius era, for more than 5. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica.
2000 years, it has been thought that the displaced water is 15th ed. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2007
so little that the measurement of a golden crown is 6. Kuroki H. What did Archimedes find at “Eureka” moment? In:
impossible. Thus, at the Eureka moment, Archimedes Paipetis S A, Ceccarelli M, eds. The Genius of Archimedes—23
found the law of buoyancy and proved the theft by Centuries of Influence on Mathematics, Science and Engineering.
weighing it in water. This relates to Proposition 7 of Amsterdam: Springer, 2010, 265–276
Archimedes’ the principle. Proposition 5 is the most 7. Heath T L. The Works of Archimedes. Cambridge: Cambridge
famous but seems to be considered as a theoretical clause. University Press, 1897, 253–260