The viscosity of a fluid is a measure of its resistance to deformation at a given rate. For liquids, it corresponds to the informal concept of “thickness”: for example, syrup has a higher viscosity than water.

Viscosity can be defined as quantifying the internal frictional force that arises between adjacent layers of fluid that are in relative motion. For instance, when a viscous fluid is forced through a tube, it flows more quickly near the tube’s axis than near its walls.

In such a case, experiments show that some stress (such as a pressure difference between the two ends of the tube) is needed to sustain the flow through the tube.

This is because a force is required to overcome the friction between the layers of the fluid which are in relative motion. So for a tube with a constant rate of flow, the strength of the compensating force is proportional to the fluid’s viscosity.

Related terms