A non-Newtonian fluid is a fluid that does not follow Newton's Law of Viscosity. Most commonly, the viscosity (the measure of a fluid's ability to resist 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, paint, blood, and shampoo.

Classification of fluids with shear stress as a function of shear rate. |

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 and can even be time-dependent (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.

Oobleck on a subwoofer. Applying force to oobleck, by sound waves in this case, makes the non-Newtonian fluid thicken. |

The properties are better studied using tensor-valued constitutive equations, which are common in the field of continuum mechanics.

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