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Pressure is the ratio of force to the surface area over which it is exerted. Though solids exert pressure, the most interesting examples of pressure involve fluidsthat is, gases and liquidsand in particular water and air. Pressure plays a number of important roles in daily life, among them its function in the operation of pumps and hydraulic presses. The maintenance of ordinary air pressure is essential to human health and well-being: the body is perfectly suited to the ordinary pressure of the atmosphere, and if that pressure is altered significantly, a person may experience harmful or even fatal side-effects.


Force and Surface Area

When a force is applied perpendicular to a surface area, it exerts pressure on that surface equal to the ratio of F to A, where F is the force and A the surface area. Hence, the formula for pressure (p ) is p = F /A. One interesting consequence of this ratio is the fact that pressure can increase or decrease without any change in forcein other words, if the surface becomes smaller, the pressure becomes larger, and vice versa.

If one cheerleader were holding another cheerleader on her shoulders, with the girl above standing on the shoulder blades of the girl below, the upper girl's feet would exert a certain pressure on the shoulders of the lower girl. This pressure would be equal to the upper girl's weight (F, which in this case is her mass multiplied by the downward acceleration due to gravity) divided by the surface area of her feet. Suppose, then, that the upper girl executes a challenging acrobatic move, bringing her left foot up to rest against her right knee, so that her right foot alone exerts the full force of her weight. Now the surface area on which the force is exerted has been reduced to half its magnitude, and thus the pressure on the lower girl's shoulder is twice as great.

For the same reasonthat is, that reduction of surface area increases net pressurea well-delivered karate chop is much more effective than an open-handed slap. If one were to slap a board squarely with one's palm, the only likely result would be a severe stinging pain on the hand. But if instead one delivered a blow to the board, with the hand held perpendicularprovided, of course, one were an expert in karatethe board could be split in two. In the first instance, the area of force exertion is large and the net pressure to the board relatively small, whereas in the case of the karate chop, the surface area is much smallerand hence, the pressure is much larger.

Sometimes, a greater surface area is preferable. Thus, snowshoes are much more effective for walking in snow than ordinary shoes or boots. Ordinary footwear is not much larger than the surface of one's foot, perfectly appropriate for walking on pavement or grass. But with deep snow, this relatively small surface area increases the pressure on the snow, and causes one's feet to sink. The snowshoe, because it has a surface area significantly larger than that of a regular shoe, reduces the ratio of force to surface area and therefore, lowers the net pressure.

The same principle applies with snow skis and water skis. Like a snowshoe, a ski makes it possible for the skier to stay on the surface of the snow, but unlike a snowshoe, a ski is long and thin, thus enabling the skier to glide more effectively down a snow-covered hill. As for skiing on water, people who are experienced at this sport can ski barefoot, but it is tricky. Most beginners require water skis, which once again reduce the net pressure exerted by the skier's weight on the surface of the water.

Measuring Pressure

Pressure is measured by a number of units in the English and metricor, as it is called in the scientific community, SIsystems. Because p = F /A, all units of pressure represent some ratio of force to surface area. The principle SI unit is called a pascal (Pa), or 1 N/m2. A newton (N), the SI unit of force, is equal to the force required to accelerate 1 kilogram of mass at a rate of 1 meter per second squared. Thus, a Pascal is equal to the pressure of 1 newton over a surface area of 1 square meter.

In the English or British system, pressure is measured in terms of pounds per square inch, abbreviated as lbs./in2. This is equal to 6.89 · 103 Pa, or 6,890 Pa. Scientistseven those in the United States, where the British system of units prevailsprefer to use SI units. However, the British unit of pressure is a familiar part of an American driver's daily life, because tire pressure in the United States is usually reckoned in terms of pounds per square inch. (The recommended tire pressure for a mid-sized car is typically 30-35 lb/in2.)

Another important measure of pressure is the atmosphere (atm), which the average pressure exerted by air at sea level. In English units, this is equal to 14.7 lbs./in2, and in SI units to 1.013 · 105 Pathat is, 101,300 Pa. There are also two other specialized units of pressure measurement in the SI system: the bar, equal to 105 Pa, and the torr, equal to 133 Pa. Meteorologists, scientists who study weather patterns, use the millibar (mb), which, as its name implies, is equal to 0.001 bars. At sea level, atmospheric pressure is approximately 1,013 mb.


The torr, once known as the "millimeter of mercury," is equal to the pressure required to raise a column of mercury (chemical symbol Hg) 1 mm. It is named for the Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647), who invented the barometer, an instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure.

The barometer, constructed by Torricelli in 1643, consisted of a long glass tube filled with mercury. The tube was open at one end, and turned upside down into a dish containing more mercury: hence, the open end was submerged in mercury while the closed end at the top constituted a vacuumthat is, an area in which the pressure is much lower than 1 atm.

The pressure of the surrounding air pushed down on the surface of the mercury in the bowl, while the vacuum at the top of the tube provided an area of virtually no pressure, into which the mercury could rise. Thus, the height to which the mercury rose in the glass tube represented normal air pressure (that is, 1 atm.) Torricelli discovered that at standard atmospheric pressure, the column of mercury rose to 760 millimeters.

The value of 1 atm was thus established as equal to the pressure exerted on a column of mercury 760 mm high at a temperature of 0°C (32°F). Furthermore, Torricelli's invention eventually became a fixture both of scientific laboratories and of households. Since changes in atmospheric pressure have an effect on weather patterns, many home indoor-outdoor thermometers today also include a barometer.

Pressure and Fluids

In terms of physics, both gases and liquids are referred to as fluidsthat is, substances that conform to the shape of their container. Air pressure and water pressure are thus specific subjects under the larger heading of "fluid pressure." A fluid responds to pressure quite differently than a solid does. The density of a solid makes it resistant to small applications of pressure, but if the pressure increases, it experiences tension and, ultimately, deformation. In the case of a fluid, however, stress causes it to flow rather than to deform.

There are three significant characteristics of the pressure exerted on fluids by a container. First of all, a fluid in a container experiencing no external motion exerts a force perpendicular to the walls of the container. Likewise, the container walls exert a force on the fluid, and in both cases, the force is always perpendicular to the walls.

In each of these three characteristics, it is assumed that the container is finite: in other words, the fluid has nowhere else to go. Hence, the second statement: the external pressure exerted on the fluid is transmitted uniformly. Note that the preceding statement was qualified by the term "external": the fluid itself exerts pressure whose force component is equal to its weight. Therefore, the fluid on the bottom has much greater pressure than the fluid on the top, due to the weight of the fluid above it.

Third, the pressure on any small surface of the fluid is the same, regardless of that surface's orientation. In other words, an area of fluid perpendicular to the container walls experiences the same pressure as one parallel or at an angle to the walls. This may seem to contradict the first principle, that the force is perpendicular to the walls of the container. In fact, force is a vector quantity, meaning that it has both magnitude and direction, whereas pressure is a scalar, meaning that it has magnitude but no specific direction.


Pascal's Principle and the Hydraulic Press

The three characteristics of fluid pressure described above have a number of implications and applications, among them, what is known as Pascal's principle. Like the SI unit of pressure, Pascal's principle is named after Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a French mathematician and physicist who formulated the second of the three statements: that the external pressure applied on a fluid is transmitted uniformly throughout the entire body of that fluid. Pascal's principle became the basis for one of the important machines ever developed, the hydraulic press.

A simple hydraulic press of the variety used to raise a car in an auto shop typically consists of two large cylinders side by side. Each cylinder contains a piston, and the cylinders are connected at the bottom by a channel containing fluid. Valves control flow between the two cylinders. When one applies force by pressing down the piston in one cylinder (the input cylinder), this yields a uniform pressure that causes output in the second cylinder, pushing up a piston that raises the car.

In accordance with Pascal's principle, the pressure throughout the hydraulic press is the same, and will always be equal to the ratio between force and pressure. As long as that ratio is the same, the values of F and A may vary. In the case of an auto-shop car jack, the input cylinder has a relatively small surface area, and thus, the amount of force that must be applied is relatively small as well. The output cylinder has a relatively large surface area, and therefore, exerts a relatively large force to lift the car. This, combined with the height differential between the two cylinders (discussed in the context of mechanical advantage elsewhere in this book), makes it possible to lift a heavy automobile with a relatively small amount of effort.


The car jack is a simple model of the hydraulic press in operation, but in fact, Pascal's principle has many more applications. Among these is the hydraulic ram, used in machines ranging from bulldozers to the hydraulic lifts used by firefighters and utility workers to reach heights. In a hydraulic ram, however, the characteristics of the input and output cylinders are reversed from those of a car jack.

The input cylinder, called the master cylinder, has a large surface area, whereas the output cylinder (called the slave cylinder) has a small surface area. In additionthough again, this is a factor related to mechanical advantage rather than pressure, per sethe master cylinder is short, whereas the slave cylinder is tall. Owing to the larger surface area of the master cylinder compared to that of the slave cylinder, the hydraulic ram is not considered efficient in terms of mechanical advantage: in other words, the force input is much greater than the force output.

Nonetheless, the hydraulic ram is as well-suited to its purpose as a car jack. Whereas the jack is made for lifting a heavy automobile through a short vertical distance, the hydraulic ram carries a much lighter cargo (usually just one person) through a much greater vertical rangeto the top of a tree or building, for instance.

Exploiting Pressure Differences


A pump utilizes Pascal's principle, but instead of holding fluid in a single container, a pump allows the fluid to escape. Specifically, the pump utilizes a pressure difference, causing the fluid to move from an area of higher pressure to one of lower pressure. A very simple example of this is a siphon hose, used to draw petroleum from a car's gas tank. Sucking on one end of the hose creates an area of low pressure compared to the relatively high-pressure area of the gas tank. Eventually, the gasoline will come out of the low-pressure end of the hose. (And with luck, the person siphoning will be able to anticipate this, so that he does not get a mouthful of gasoline!)

The piston pump, more complex, but still fairly basic, consists of a vertical cylinder along which a piston rises and falls. Near the bottom of the cylinder are two valves, an inlet valve through which fluid flows into the cylinder, and an outlet valve through which fluid flows out of it. On the suction stroke, as the piston moves upward, the inlet valve opens and allows fluid to enter the cylinder. On the downstroke, the inlet valve closes while the outlet valve opens, and the pressure provided by the piston on the fluid forces it through the outlet valve.

One of the most obvious applications of the piston pump is in the engine of an automobile. In this case, of course, the fluid being pumped is gasoline, which pushes the pistons by providing a series of controlled explosions created by the spark plug's ignition of the gas. In another variety of piston pumpthe kind used to inflate a basketball or a bicycle tireair is the fluid being pumped. Then there is a pump for water, which pumps drinking water from the ground It may also be used to remove desirable water from an area where it is a hindrance, for instance, in the bottom of a boat.


Though Pascal provided valuable understanding with regard to the use of pressure for performing work, the thinker who first formulated general principles regarding the relationship between fluids and pressure was the Swiss mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782). Bernoulli is considered the father of fluid mechanics, the study of the behavior of gases and liquids at rest and in motion.

While conducting experiments with liquids, Bernoulli observed that when the diameter of a pipe is reduced, the water flows faster. This suggested to him that some force must be acting upon the water, a force that he reasoned must arise from differences in pressure. Specifically, the slower-moving fluid in the wider area of pipe had a greater pressure than the portion of the fluid moving through the narrower part of the pipe. As a result, he concluded that pressure and velocity are inversely relatedin other words, as one increases, the other decreases.

Hence, he formulated Bernoulli's principle, which states that for all changes in movement, the sum of static and dynamic pressure in a fluid remain the same. A fluid at rest exerts static pressure, which is commonly meant by "pressure," as in "water pressure." As the fluid begins to move, however, a portion of the static pressureproportional to the speed of the fluidis converted to what is known as dynamic pressure, or the pressure of movement. In a cylindrical pipe, static pressure is exerted perpendicular to the surface of the container, whereas dynamic pressure is parallel to it.

According to Bernoulli's principle, the greater the velocity of flow in a fluid, the greater the dynamic pressure and the less the static pressure: in other words, slower-moving fluid exerts greater pressure than faster-moving fluid. The discovery of this principle ultimately made possible the development of the airplane.

As fluid moves from a wider pipe to a narrower one, the volume of that fluid that moves a given distance in a given time period does not change. But since the width of the narrower pipe is smaller, the fluid must move faster (that is, with greater dynamic pressure) in order to move the same amount of fluid the same distance in the same amount of time. One way to illustrate this is to observe the behavior of a river: in a wide, unconstricted region, it flows slowly, but if its flow is narrowed by canyon walls, then it speeds up dramatically.

Bernoulli's principle ultimately became the basis for the airfoil, the design of an airplane's wing when seen from the end. An airfoil is shaped like an asymmetrical teardrop laid on its side, with the "fat" end toward the airflow. As air hits the front of the airfoil, the airstream divides, part of it passing over the wing and part passing under. The upper surface of the airfoil is curved, however, whereas the lower surface is much straighter.

As a result, the air flowing over the top has a greater distance to cover than the air flowing under the wing. Since fluids have a tendency to compensate for all objects with which they come into contact, the air at the top will flow faster to meet with air at the bottom at the rear end of the wing. Faster airflow, as demonstrated by Bernoulli, indicates lower pressure, meaning that the pressure on the bottom of the wing keeps the airplane aloft.

Buoyancy and Pressure

One hundred and twenty years before the first successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers in 1903, another pair of brothersthe Mont-golfiers of Francedeveloped another means of flight. This was the balloon, which relied on an entirely different principle to get off the ground: buoyancy, or the tendency of an object immersed in a fluid to float. As with Bernoulli's principle, however, the concept of buoyancy is related to pressure.

In the third century b.c., the Greek mathematician, physicist, and inventor Archimedes (c. 287-212 b.c.) discovered what came to be known as Archimedes's principle, which holds that the buoyant force of an object immersed in fluid is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object. This is the reason why ships float: because the buoyant, or lifting, force of them is less than equal to the weight of the water they displace.

The hull of a ship is designed to displace or move a quantity of water whose weight is greater than that of the vessel itself. The weight of the displaced waterthat is, its mass multiplied by the downward acceleration caused by gravityis equal to the buoyant force that the ocean exerts on the ship. If the ship weighs less than the water it displaces, it will float; but if it weighs more, it will sink.

The factors involved in Archimedes's principle depend on density, gravity, and depth rather than pressure. However, the greater the depth within a fluid, the greater the pressure that pushes against an object immersed in the fluid. Moreover, the overall pressure at a given depth in a fluid is related in part to both density and gravity, components of buoyant force.


The pressure that a fluid exerts on the bottom of its container is equal to dgh, where d is density, g the acceleration due to gravity, and h the depth of the container. For any portion of the fluid, h is equal to its depth within the container, meaning that the deeper one goes, the greater the pressure. Furthermore, the total pressure within the fluid is equal to dgh + p external, where p external is the pressure exerted on the surface of the fluid. In a piston-and-cylinder assembly, this pressure comes from the piston, but in water, the pressure comes from the atmosphere.

In this context, the ocean may be viewed as a type of "container." At its surface, the air exerts downward pressure equal to 1 atm. The density of the water itself is uniform, as is the downward acceleration due to gravity; the only variable, then, is h, or the distance below the surface. At the deepest reaches of the ocean, the pressure is incredibly greatfar more than any human being could endure. This vast amount of pressure pushes upward, resisting the downward pressure of objects on its surface. At the same time, if a boat's weight is dispersed properly along its hull, the ship maximizes area and minimizes force, thus exerting a downward pressure on the surface of the water that is less than the upward pressure of the water itself. Hence, it floats.

Pressure and the Human Body


The Montgolfiers used the principle of buoyancy not to float on the water, but to float in the sky with a craft lighter than air. The particulars of this achievement are discussed elsewhere, in the context of buoyancy; but the topic of lighter-than-air flight suggests another concept that has been alluded to several times throughout this essay: air pressure.

Just as water pressure is greatest at the bottom of the ocean, air pressure is greatest at the surface of the Earthwhich, in fact, is at the bottom of an "ocean" of air. Both air and water pressure are examples of hydrostatic pressurethe pressure that exists at any place in a body of fluid due to the weight of the fluid above. In the case of air pressure, air is pulled downward by the force of Earth's gravitation, and air along the surface has greater pressure due to the weight (a function of gravity) of the air above it. At great heights above Earth's surface, however, the gravitational force is diminished, and, thus, the air pressure is much smaller.

In ordinary experience, a person's body is subjected to an impressive amount of pressure. Given the value of atmospheric pressure discussed earlier, if one holds out one's handassuming that the surface is about 20 in2 (0.129 m2)the force of the air resting on it is nearly 300 lb (136 kg)! How is it, then, that one's hand is not crushed by all this weight? The reason is that the human body itself is under pressure, and that the interior of the body exerts a pressure equal to that of the air.


The human body is, in fact, suited to the normal air pressure of 1 atm, and if that external pressure is altered, the body undergoes changes that may be harmful or even fatal. A minor example of this is the "popping" in the ears that occurs when one drives through the mountains or rides in an airplane. With changes in altitude come changes in pressure, and thus, the pressure in the ears changes as well.

As noted earlier, at higher altitudes, the air pressure is diminished, which makes it harder to breathe. Because air is a gas, its molecules have a tendency to be non-attractive: in other words, when the pressure is low, they tend to move away from one another, and the result is that a person at a high altitude has difficulty getting enough air into his or her lungs. Runners competing in the 1968 Olympics at Mexico City, a town in the mountains, had to train in high-altitude environments so that they would be able to breathe during competition. For baseball teams competing in Denver, Colorado (known as "the Mile-High City"), this disadvantage in breathing is compensated by the fact that lowered pressure and resistance allows a baseball to move more easily through the air.

If a person is raised in such a high-altitude environment, of course, he or she becomes used to breathing under low air pressure conditions. In the Peruvian Andes, for instance, people spend their whole lives at a height more than twice as great as that of Denver, but a person from a low-altitude area should visit such a locale only after taking precautions. At extremely great heights, of course, no human can breathe: hence airplane cabins are pressurized. Most planes are equipped with oxygen masks, which fall from the ceiling if the interior of the cabin experiences a pressure drop. Without these masks, everyone in the cabin would die.


Another aspect of pressure and the human body is blood pressure. Just as 20/20 vision is ideal, doctors recommend a target blood pressure of "120 over 80"but what does that mean? When a person's blood pressure is measured, an inflatable cuff is wrapped around the upper arm at the same level as the heart. At the same time, a stethoscope is placed along an artery in the lower arm to monitor the sound of the blood flow. The cuff is inflated to stop the blood flow, then the pressure is released until the blood just begins flowing again, producing a gurgling sound in the stethoscope.

The pressure required to stop the blood flow is known as the systolic pressure, which is equal to the maximum pressure produced by the heart. After the pressure on the cuff is reduced until the blood begins flowing normallywhich is reflected by the cessation of the gurgling sound in the stethoscopethe pressure of the artery is measured again. This is the diastolic pressure, or the pressure that exists within the artery between strokes of the heart. For a healthy person, systolic pressure should be 120 torr, and diastolic pressure 80 torr.


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Zubrowski, Bernie. Balloons: Building and Experimenting with Inflatable Toys. Illustrated by Roy Doty. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1990.



A measure of pressure, abbreviated "atm" and equal to the average pressure exerted by air at sea level. In English units, this is equal to 14.7 pounds per square inch, and in SI units to 101,300 pascals.


An instrument form easuring atmospheric pressure.


The tendency of an objectimmersed in a fluid to float.


Any substance, whether gas or liquid, that conforms to the shape of itscontainer.


The study of the behavior of gases and liquids at rest and in motion.


the pressure that exists at any place in a body of fluid due to the weight of the fluid above.


The principle SI or metricunit of pressure, abbreviated "Pa" and equal to 1 N/m2.


A statement, formulated by French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), which holds that the external pressure applied on a fluid is transmitted uniformly throughout the entire body of that fluid.


The ratio of force to surface area, when force is applied in a direction perpendicular to that surface. The formula for pressure (p ) is p = F /A, where F is force and A the surface area.

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pressure, in mechanics, ratio of the force acting on a surface to the area of the surface; it is thus distinct from the total force acting on a surface. A force can be applied to and sustained by a single point on a solid. However, a force can only be sustained by the surface of an enclosed fluid, i.e., a liquid or a gas. Thus it is more convenient to describe the forces acting on and within fluids in terms of pressure. Units of pressure are frequently force units divided by area units, e.g., pounds per square inch, dynes per square centimeter, or newtons (N) per square meter.

Pressure of Fluids

A fluid exerts a pressure on all bodies immersed in it. For a fluid at rest the difference in pressure between two points in it depends only upon the density of the fluid and the difference in depth between the two points. For example, a swimmer diving down in a lake can easily observe an increase in pressure with depth. For each meter (foot) increase in depth, the swimmer is subjected to an increase in pressure of 9,810 N per sq m (62.4 lb per sq ft), because water weighs 9,810 N per cu m (62.4 lb per cu ft). Since a liquid is nearly incompressible, its density does not change significantly with increasing depth. Therefore, the increase in pressure is caused solely by the increase in depth.

The variations in pressure of a gas are more complicated. For example, since air has such a low density compared to a liquid, a change in its pressure is only measurable between points that have a great height difference. The air pressure in a typical room is the same everywhere, but it is noticeably lower at the top of a mountain than at sea level. Because air is a gas, it is compressible. Its density decreases with increasing altitude. Thus changes in air pressure depend upon both the variations in the density of air and changes in the altitude at which it is measured. These two factors combine to reduce the air pressure at an altitude of 5,500 m (18,000 ft) to one half its value at sea level. Atmospheric (air) pressure at sea level will support a column of mercury that is about 76 cm (30 in.) high. The exact height varies with the weather. A unit called a standard atmosphere exerts a pressure equivalent to a column of mercury 76 cm high at sea level when the temperature is 0°C; it is equal to 101,300 N per sq m (14.7 lb per sq in.).

Influences on and Effects of Pressure

Different gas laws relate the pressure of a gas to its volume, its temperature, or both. A rise in pressure affects both the melting point and the boiling point of a substance, raising the melting and boiling points of most substances. In the case of water, however, an increase in pressure lowers its melting point so that the pressure of a skate blade on an ice surface causes the ice below it to be converted to the liquid state (see states of matter; expansion). Bernoulli's principle relates the effect of the velocity of a fluid on the pressure within the fluid.


A body immersed in a fluid experiences a larger upward pressure on its lower surface than a downward pressure on its upper surface because of the difference in height or depth between the two surfaces; this difference in pressure results in a buoyant force that pushes the body upward (see Archimedes' principle). If the weight of the body is less than the buoyant force, the body will rise; if the weight is greater, the body will sink. The buoyant effect of this pressure may be noted in the rise of balloons or other objects filled with gases, such as hydrogen or helium, that are less dense than air.

Hydraulic Force

According to Pascal's law the pressure exerted on an enclosed fluid is transmitted undiminished throughout the fluid and acts equally in all directions. On the basis of this law, various hydraulic devices are used to multiply a force. For example, a force of 10 N exerted on a piston whose area is 1 sq m and which is inserted into an enclosed chamber filled with water or another fluid transmits a pressure of 10 N per sq m throughout the fluid. If a second piston, at another part of the chamber, has an area of 10 sq m, then this pressure results in a force of 10 N being exerted on each square meter of its area, or 100 N total force.

Tools for Measuring Pressure

The instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure, the barometer, is calibrated to read zero when there is a complete vacuum; the pressure indicated by the instrument is therefore called absolute pressure. The term "pressure gauge" is commonly applied to the other instruments used for measuring pressure. They are manufactured in a great variety of sizes and types and are employed for recording pressures exerted by substances other than air—water, oil, various gases—registering pressures as low as 13.8×103 N per sq m (2 lb per sq in.) or as high as 13.8×107 N per sq m (10 tons per sq in.) and over (as in hydraulic presses). Some pressure gauges are made to carry out special operations, such as the one used on a portable air compressor. In this case, the gauge acts automatically to stop further operation when the pressure has reached a certain point and to start it up again when compression has fallen off to a certain limit.

In general, a gauge consists of a metal tube or diaphragm that becomes distorted when pressure is applied and, by an arrangement of multiplying levers and gears, causes an indicator to register the pressure upon a graduated dial. The Bourdon gauge used to measure steam pressure and vacuum consists essentially of a hollow metal tube closed at one end and bent into a curve, generally elliptic in section. The open end is connected to the boiler. As the pressure inside the tube (from the boiler) increases, the tube tends to straighten out. The closed end is attached to an indicating needle, which registers the extent to which the tube straightens out. For pressure too small to be accurately measured by the Bourdon gauge, the manometer is used. The simplest type of manometer consists of a U tube partially filled with a liquid (i.e., mercury), leaving one end open to the atmosphere and the other end to the source of pressure. If the pressure being measured is greater or less than atmospheric pressure, the liquid in the tube moves accordingly. Pressures up to several million lb per sq in. have been produced in experiments to determine the effect of high pressure on various substances.

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Pressure is the amount of force applied to a given area. Pressure is expressed in units such as pounds per square inch in the English system or newtons per square meter in the metric system.

To understand the difference between force and pressure, consider a block of wood one foot on each side and weighing 40 pounds. The force exerted by that block of wood on a table top is equal to its weight: 40 pounds. But the pressure exerted by the wood is the force exerted on each square inch. Since the block of wood rests on an area of 144 square inches (12 inches by 12 inches), the pressure it exerts is 40 pounds ÷ 144 square inches = 0.28 pounds per square inch.

But now imagine that the same block of wood is cut apart and put back together in the shape of a pyramid. And imagine that a way can be found to balance that pyramid of wood on the table top on its point. Then, the pressure exerted by the wood block is quite different. Its weight remains the same, 40 pounds, but all of that weight rests on a single point. Imagine that the area of the point is 0.01 square inch. Then, the pressure exerted by the block is 40 pounds ÷ 0.01 square inch = 4,000 pounds per square inch.

Perhaps you can see why a sharp knife cuts better than a dull one, or why a nail has a sharp point rather than a flat one. The force exerted by the knife or the nail is focused on a small area, creating a large pressure and, therefore, a more effective cutting or driving force.

All forms of mattersolid, liquid, and gasexert pressure. In the case of solids and liquids, that pressure is caused by the weight of an object and the area on which that weight acts. In the case of a gas, that pressure is caused by the motion of the gas particles. As gas particles travel through space, they collide with walls, table tops, ceilings, floors, and other objects. The collision of the gas particles against these objects causes gas pressure.

Atmospheric pressure

The form of pressure best known to most people is probably air pressure. Air exerts pressure, as do all gases, because of the movement of air particles and their collision with other objects. At sea level, this pressure has a value of approximately 760 millimeters of mercury (760 mm Hg). This unit may seem peculiar, but it represents the height of a column of mercury that can be held up by air pressure at sea level.

Atmospheric pressure is also measured in other units such as atmospheres, millibars, inches of mercury, and kilopascals. One atmosphere of pressure is equal to 760 mm Hg; 29.92 inches of mercury; 1013.25 millibars; or 101.3 kilopascals.

Atmospheric pressure depends on a number of factors, including altitude and weather conditions. In general, the higher one goes in the atmosphere, the lower the atmospheric pressure. Also, the greater the humidity (amount of moisture in the air), the lower the atmospheric pressure.

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pres·sure / ˈpreshər/ • n. 1. the continuous physical force exerted on or against an object by something in contact with it: the slight extra pressure he applied to her hand. ∎  the force exerted per unit area: gas can be fed to the turbines at a pressure of around 250 psi. 2. the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something: the proposals put pressure on Britain to drop its demand| the many pressures on girls to worry about their looks. ∎  the influence or effect of someone or something: oil prices came under some downward pressure. ∎  the feeling of stressful urgency caused by the necessity of doing or achieving something, esp. with limited time: you need to be able to work under pressure and not get flustered | some offenders might find prison a refuge against the pressures of the outside world. • v. [tr.] attempt to persuade or coerce (someone) into doing something: it might now be possible to pressure him into resigning | [tr.] she pressured her son to accept a job offer from the bank.

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"pressure." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"pressure." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (December 16, 2017).

"pressure." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from


pressure (symbol Pa) In physics, the force on an object's surface divided by the area of the surface. The SI unit is the pascal; 1 pascal is equal to the pressure exerted by a force of 1 newton on an area of 1m2. In meteorology, the millibar (symbol mb), which equals 100 pascals, is commonly used.

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"pressure." World Encyclopedia. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"pressure." World Encyclopedia. . (December 16, 2017).

"pressure." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from


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"pressure." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"pressure." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (December 16, 2017).

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