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Cluster-based sensor networks have the advantages of reducing energy consumption and link-maintenance cost. One fundamental issue in cluster-based sensor networks is determining the optimal number of clusters. In this paper, we suggest a physical (PHY)/medium access control (MAC)/network (NET) cross-layer analytical approach for determining the optimal number of clusters, with the objective of minimizing energy consumption in a high-density sensor network. Our cross-layer design can incorporate many effects, including lognormal shadowing and a two-slope path loss model in the PHY layer, various MAC scheduling, and multihop routing schemes. Compared with the base-line case with one cluster per observation area (OA), a sensor network with the proposed optimal number of clusters can reduce the energy consumption by more than 80% in some cases. We also verify by simulations that the analytical optimal cluster number can still effectively function, regardless of the different densities of sensors in various OAs.