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Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid which is being deformed by either shear stress or tensile stress. In everyday terms (and for fluids only), viscosity is "thickness". Thus, water is "thin", having a lower viscosity, while honey is "thick", having a higher viscosity. Put simply, the less viscous the fluid is, the greater its ease of movement (fluidity).[1]

Viscosity describes a fluid's internal resistance to flow and may be thought of as a measure of fluid friction. For example, high-viscosity felsic magma will create a tall, steep stratovolcano, because it cannot flow far before it cools, while low-viscosity mafic lava will create a wide, shallow-sloped shield volcano. All real fluids (except superfluids) have some resistance to stress and therefore are viscous, but a fluid which has no resistance to shear stress is known as an ideal fluid or inviscid fluid.

The study of flowing matter is known as rheology, which includes viscosity and related concepts.

Properties and behavior


In general, in any flow, layers move at different velocities and the fluid's viscosity arises from the shear stress between the layers that ultimately opposes any applied force.

The relationship between the shear stress and the velocity gradient can be obtained by considering two plates closely spaced at a distance y, and separated by a homogeneous substance. Assuming that the plates are very large, with a large area A, such that edge effects may be ignored, and that the lower plate is fixed, let a force F be applied to the upper plate. If this force causes the substance between the plates to undergo shear flow at velocity u (as opposed to just shearing elastically until the shear stress in the substance balances the applied force), the substance is called a fluid.

The applied force is proportional to the area and velocity of the plate and inversely proportional to the distance between the plates. Combining these three relations results in the equation

 F=\mu A \frac{u}{y},

where μ is the proportionality factor called the viscosity.

This equation can be expressed in terms of shear stress \tau=\frac{F}{A} Thus as expressed in differential form by Isaac Newton for straight, parallel and uniform flow, the shear stress between layers is proportional to the velocity gradient in the direction perpendicular to the layers:

\tau=\mu \frac{\partial u}{\partial y}

Hence, through this method, the relation between the shear stress and the velocity gradient can be obtained.

Note that the rate of shear deformation is \frac{u} {y} which can be also written as a shear velocity, \frac{du} {dy}.

James Clerk Maxwell called viscosity fugitive elasticity because of the analogy that elastic deformation opposes shear stress in solids, while in viscous fluids, shear stress is opposed by rate of deformation.