MCAT Physics Question — Floating Objects
- Jan 20, 2017
- MCAT Question of the Day
A 10-cubic-cm cork floats in water with 1/2 of its volume submerged. Approximately what fraction of the cork’s volume will be submerged when in mercury (specific gravity = 13)?
C. The cork will completely submerge because of the mercury’s greater cohesiveness than water.
Click for Explanation
A floating object will displace a mass of fluid equal to its own mass. For example, if a 10-ton ship is floating in water, it must displace 10 tons of water. Or if a water strider weighing just 0.2 grams is skimming along the surface of the water, it must be displacing 0.2 grams of water.
Since the cork is floating, it must be displacing water (and mercury!) equal to its own mass. That lets us write the following:
mwater = mmercury
Since ρ = m / V, we can rearrange the density equation to get:
m = ρV
ρwaterVwater = ρmercuryVmercury
We’re told that the cork floats with half of its volume submerged. So the cork is displacing 5 cm3 of water.
(1 g/cm3)(5cm3) = (13 g/cm3)(Vmercury)
Vmercury = 5/13 cm3
The cork is 10 cm3, which means that 5/13 cm3 represents a tiny fraction of the cork’s volume. Among the answer choices, only (a) is anywhere close.
Alternatively, you can solve this question using the ratio of the specific gravity of the cork to the specific gravity of mercury. Since water has a specific gravity of 1 and half of the cork’s volume is submerged when in water, the cork must have a specific gravity of 0.5. The ratio of this value to the S.G. of mercury (13) gives us the fraction of the cork’s volume that is submerged: 0.5/13 = 1/26, closest to choice A.
A. 1/20th, correct
B. 1/2, incorrect, this answer reflects no change in submersion, even though mercury is far more dense than water
C. incorrect, although mercury has greater cohesiveness than water, this does not affect the buoyancy of objects floating in mercury
D. 5/13, incorrect, this answer reflects using 5/13 cm3, 0.38, as the portion submerged rather than comparing to the total volume of 10 cm3
Want more MCAT practice?
We’ve got options for every schedule and learning style!
From the best online MCAT course created by top instructors with 524+ MCAT scores to the most representative full-length practice exams and private tutoring, we can custom tailor your MCAT prep to your goals!
Not sure which option is right for you? Schedule a free MCAT consultation with an MCAT expert using the form below. No obligation, just expert advice.
Search the Blog
Free ConsultationSchedule Now
Free MCAT Practice AccountNeed great MCAT practice?
Get the most representative MCAT practice possible when you sign up for our free MCAT Account, which includes a half-length diagnostic exam and one of our full-length MCAT practice exams.Learn More