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While Newtonian fluids – fluids whose viscosity is only influenced by temperature and pressure – are easy to understand. Non-Newtonian fluids have been a mystery for scientists for decades. Such fluids exhibit a peculiar behavior: they can change their state when a force is applied on them (a liquid can turn more solid when punched). While there have been a few theories there wasn’t enough evidence to understand what was actually going on in such fluids.
It has been hypothesized that the colloids (microscopic particles found in a Non-Newtonian fluid) are responsible for the unique behavior of these fluids. One group of scientists believes that whenever a force is applied, the colloids become locked with each other and give rise to the solid like state. The other group believes that the applied force pushes the liquid out from in between the colloids forming “hydro-clusters” which are responsible for the altered state of the liquid. Till now, there was no evidence of either hypothesis being correct. That might have changed thanks to a new study.
The study in question was performed by researchers from US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Georgetown University. What they determined was that both theories might actually be right. The experiment performed by the researchers revolved around how colloids behaved under different levels of stress ranging from a little to a lot. What scientists found out was that, at first, the particles formed hydro-clusters but with the increase in the applied stress, the interactions became friction dominated. In other words, at first, the second hypothesis (mentioned above) held true but with increase in stress, the first hypothesis was also found to be true.
It is no exaggeration to say that the findings of this study are indeed interesting. Better understanding of Non-Newtonian fluids will help come up with cool new inventions. But for now, we will have to wait.
The research has been published in Physical Review Letters.