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Non-Newtonian Fluid Easy Definition Essay

Newtonian fluid, non-Newtonian fluid, rheopectic, thixotropic, dilatant... what's the difference between these liquid properties? More importantly, what does it matter? If you're sizing or selecting pumps, mixers, or any other type of equipment that applies shear to fluid, these are all terms you should know. 

All fluids can be broken down into two basic types, Newtonian, and non-Newtonian.


A Newtonian fluid's viscosity remains constant, no matter the amount of shear applied for a constant temperature.. These fluids have a linear relationship between viscosity and shear stress.


  • Water
  • Mineral oil
  • Gasoline
  • Alcohol


You can probably guess that non-Newtonian fluids are the opposite of Newtonian fluids. When shear is applied to non-Newtonian fluids, the viscosity of the fluid changes. The behavior of the fluid can be described one of four ways:

  • Dilatant - Viscosity of the fluid increases when shear is applied. For example:
    • Quicksand
    • Cornflour and water
    • Silly putty
  • Pseudoplastic - Pseudoplastic is the opposite of dilatant; the more shear applied, the less viscous it becomes. For example:

This chart shows how viscosity changes in respect to the amount of shear or stress applied to the fluid.

  • Rheopectic - Rheopectic is very similar to dilatant in that when shear is applied, viscosity increases. The difference here, is that viscosity increase is time-dependent. For example:
  • Thixotropic - Fluids with thixotropic properties decrease in viscosity when shear is applied. This is a time dependent property as well. For example:
    • Paint
    • Cosmetics
    • Asphalt
    • Glue

This chart shows how viscosity changes in respect to shear applied over time to the fluid.

Why do you need to know the difference? It's important to fully understand the properties of the fluids you're transferring, mixing, or pumping because viscosity plays a major role in sizing and selecting equipment. Understanding how it reacts to shear will help you properly size and select all the equipment it touches. 

Need help with a viscous situation? Ask us about it! We gladly provide technical assistance to businesses in Wisconsin and upper Michigan.


A non-Newtonian fluid is a fluid that does not follow Newton's Law of Viscosity. Most commonly, the viscosity (the gradual deformation by shear or tensile stresses) of non-Newtonian fluids is dependent on shear rate or shear rate history. Some non-Newtonian fluids with shear-independent viscosity, however, still exhibit normal stress-differences or other non-Newtonian behavior. Many salt solutions and molten polymers are non-Newtonian fluids, as are many commonly found substances such as ketchup, custard, toothpaste, starch suspensions, maizena, honey[1], paint, blood, frog saliva, and shampoo.

In a Newtonian fluid, the relation between the shear stress and the shear rate is linear, passing through the origin, the constant of proportionality being the coefficient of viscosity. In a non-Newtonian fluid, the relation between the shear stress and the shear rate is different. The fluid can even exhibit time-dependent viscosity. Therefore, a constant coefficient of viscosity cannot be defined.

Although the concept of viscosity is commonly used in fluid mechanics to characterize the shear properties of a fluid, it can be inadequate to describe non-Newtonian fluids. They are best studied through several other rheological properties that relate stress and strain rate tensors under many different flow conditions—such as oscillatory shear or extensional flow—which are measured using different devices or rheometers. The properties are better studied using tensor-valued constitutive equations, which are common in the field of continuum mechanics.

Types of non-Newtonian behaviour[edit]


ViscoelasticKelvin material, Maxwell material"Parallel" linear combination of elastic and viscous effects[2]Some lubricants, whipped cream, Silly Putty
Time-dependent viscosityRheopectyApparent viscosity increases with duration of stressSynovial fluid, printer ink, gypsum paste
ThixotropicApparent viscosity decreases with duration of stress[2]Yogurt, peanut butter, xanthan gum solutions, aqueous iron oxide gels, gelatin gels, pectin gels, hydrogenated castor oil, some clays (including bentonite, and montmorillonite), carbon black suspension in molten tire rubber, some drilling muds, many paints, many floc suspensions, many colloidal suspensions
Non Newtonian ViscosityShear thickening (dilatant)Apparent viscosity increases with increased stress[3]Suspensions of corn starch in water
Shear thinning (pseudoplastic)Apparent viscosity decreases with increased stress[4][5]Nail polish, whipped cream, ketchup, molasses, syrups, paper pulp in water, latex paint, ice, blood, some silicone oils, some silicone coatings, sand in water
Generalized Newtonian fluidsViscosity is constant.
Stress depends on normal and shear strain rates and also the pressure applied on it
Blood plasma, custard, water

Shear thickening fluid[edit]

The viscosity of a shear thickening fluid, or dilatant fluid, appears to increase when the shear rate increases. Corn starch dissolved in water ("oobleck", see below) is a common example: when stirred slowly it looks milky, when stirred vigorously it feels like a very viscous liquid.

Shear thinning fluid[edit]

A familiar example of the opposite, a shear thinning fluid, or pseudoplastic fluid, is wall paint: The paint should flow readily off the brush when it is being applied to a surface but not drip excessively. Note that all thixotropic fluids are extremely shear thinning, but they are significantly time dependent, whereas the colloidal "shear thinning" fluids respond instantaneously to changes in shear rate. Thus, to avoid confusion, the latter classification is more clearly termed pseudoplastic.

Another example of a shear thinning fluid is blood. This application is highly favoured within the body, as it allows the viscosity of blood to decrease with increased shear strain rate.

Bingham plastic[edit]

Fluids that have a linear shear stress/shear strain relationship require a finite yield stress before they begin to flow (the plot of shear stress against shear strain does not pass through the origin). These fluids are called Bingham plastics. Several examples are clay suspensions, drilling mud, toothpaste, mayonnaise, chocolate, and mustard. The surface of a Bingham plastic can hold peaks when it is still. By contrast Newtonian fluids have flat featureless surfaces when still.

Rheopectic or anti-thixotropic[edit]

There are also fluids whose strain rate is a function of time. Fluids that require a gradually increasing shear stress to maintain a constant strain rate are referred to as rheopectic. An opposite case of this is a fluid that thins out with time and requires a decreasing stress to maintain a constant strain rate (thixotropic).


Many common substances exhibit non-Newtonian flows. These include:[6]

  • Soap solutions, cosmetics and toothpaste
  • Food such as butter, cheese, jam, ketchup, mayonnaise, soup, taffy, and yogurt
  • Natural substances such as magma, lava, gums, honey, and extracts such as vanilla extract
  • Biological fluids such as blood, saliva, semen, mucus and synovial fluid
  • Slurries such as cement slurry and paper pulp, emulsions such as mayonnaise, and some kinds of dispersions


An inexpensive, non-toxic example of a non-Newtonian fluid is a suspension of starch (e.g. cornstarch) in water, sometimes called "Oobleck", "ooze", or "magic mud" (1 part of water to 1.5–2 parts of corn starch).[8][9][10] The name "oobleck" is derived from the Dr. Seuss book Bartholomew and the Oobleck.[8]

Because of its properties, oobleck is often used in demonstrations that exhibit its unusual behavior. A person may walk on a large tub of oobleck without sinking due to its shear thickening properties, as long as the individual moves quickly enough to provide enough force with each step to cause the thickening. Also, if oobleck is placed on a large subwoofer driven at a sufficiently high volume, it will thicken and form standing waves in response to low frequency sound waves from the speaker. If a person were to punch or hit oobleck, it would thicken and act like a solid. After the blow, the oobleck will go back to its thin liquid like state.


Main article: Flubber (material)

Flubber is a non-Newtonian fluid, easily made from polyvinyl alcohol–based glues (such as white "school" glue) and borax. It flows under low stresses but breaks under higher stresses and pressures. This combination of fluid-like and solid-like properties makes it a Maxwell fluid. Its behaviour can also be described as being viscoplastic or gelatinous.[11]

Chilled caramel topping[edit]

Another example of this is chilled caramel ice cream topping (so long as it incorporates hydrocolloids such as carrageenan and gellan gum). The sudden application of force—by stabbing the surface with a finger, for example, or rapidly inverting the container holding it—causes the fluid to behave like a solid rather than a liquid. This is the "shear thickening" property of this non-Newtonian fluid. More gentle treatment, such as slowly inserting a spoon, will leave it in its liquid state. Trying to jerk the spoon back out again, however, will trigger the return of the temporary solid state.[12]

Silly Putty[edit]

Main article: Silly Putty

Silly Putty is a silicone polymer based suspension which will flow, bounce, or break depending on strain rate.

Plant resin[edit]

Main article: Pitch (resin)

Plant resin is a viscoelasticsolidpolymer. When left in a container, it will flow slowly as a liquid to conform to the contours of its container. If struck with greater force, however, it will shatter as a solid.


Ketchup is a shear thinning fluid.[3][13] Shear thinning means that the fluid viscosity decreases with increasing shear stress. In other words, fluid motion is initially difficult at slow rates of deformation, but will flow more freely at high rates.

Dry granular flows[edit]

Under certain circumstances, flows of granular materials can be modelled as a continuum, for example using the μ(I) rheology. Such continuum models tend to be non-Newtonian, since the apparent viscosity of granular flows increases with pressure and decreases with shear rate.

See also[edit]


  1. ^Ouellette, Jennifer (2013). ""An-Ti-Ci-Pa-Tion: The Physics of Dripping Honey". Scientific American. 
  2. ^ abTropea, Cameron; Yarin, Alexander L.; Foss, John F. (2007). Springer handbook of experimental fluid mechanics. Springer. pp. 661, 676. ISBN 978-3-540-25141-5. 
  3. ^ abGaray, Paul N. (1996). Pump Application Desk Book (3rd ed.). Prentice Hall. p. 358. ISBN 978-0-88173-231-3. 
  4. ^Rao, M. A. (2007). Rheology of Fluid and Semisolid Foods: Principles and Applications (2nd ed.). Springer. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-387-70929-1. 
  5. ^Schramm, Laurier L. (2005). Emulsions, Foams, and Suspensions: Fundamentals and Applications. Wiley VCH. p. 173. ISBN 978-3-527-30743-2. 
  6. ^Chhabra, R.P. (2006). Bubbles, Drops, and Particles in Non-Newtonian Fluids (2nd ed.). Hoboken: Taylor & Francis Ltd. pp. 9–10. ISBN 1420015389. 
  7. ^This demonstration of oobleck is a popular subject for YouTube videos, such as this.
  8. ^ abOobleck: The Dr. Seuss Science Experiment
  9. ^"Outrageous Ooze". Exploratorium. 
  10. ^Rupp, Rebecca. "Magic Mud and Other Great Experiments". The Complete Home Learning Source Book. pp. 235–236. 
  11. ^Glurch Meets OobleckArchived 6 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine.. Iowa State University Extension.
  12. ^Barra, Giuseppina (2004). The Rheology of Caramel (PhD). University of Nottingham. 
  13. ^Cartwright, Jon (2 September 2011). "Microscopy reveals why ketchup squirts". Chemistry World. Royal Society of Chemistry. 

External links[edit]

Classification of fluids with shear stress as a function of shear rate.
Demonstration of a non-Newtonian fluid at Universum in Mexico City
Oobleck on a subwoofer. Applying force to oobleck, by sound waves in this case, makes the non-Newtonian fluid thicken.[7]

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