efluids bicycle aerodynamics
Home Education Focus Contact eFluids
1. Introduction
2. Adding Wind Speeds and Directions
3. Characteristics of Fluids
4. Pressure
5. Continuity Equation
6. Bernoulli's Equation
7. Streamlines and Streamtubes
8. Flows With Friction
9. Transition and Turbulence
10. Separation
11. Drag of Blunt and Streamlined Bodies
12. Drafting
13. Golf Balls, Cricket Balls, and Tennis Balls
14. Lift and Stall
15. Useful Links
eFluids Galleries
Gallery of Images
Gallery of Videos
Gallery of Experiments
Gallery of Problems
Gallery of Calculators

3. Characteristics of Fluids

The principal difference in the mechanical behavior of fluids compared to solids is that when a shear stress is applied to a fluid it experiences a continuing and permanent distortion. Fluids offer no permanent resistance to shearing, and they have elastic properties only under direct compression: in contrast to solids which have all three elastic moduli, fluids possess a bulk modulus only.

Thus, a fluid can be defined unambiguously as a material that deforms continuously and permanently under the application of a shearing stress, no matter how small.

This definition does not address the issue of how fast the deformation occurs and as we shall see later this rate is dependent on many factors including the properties of the fluid itself. The inability of fluids to resist shearing stress gives them their characteristic ability to change shape or to flow; their inability to support tension stress is an engineering assumption, but it is a well-justified assumption because such stresses, which depend on intermolecular cohesion, are usually extremely small.....

Because fluids cannot support shearing stresses, it does not follow that such stresses are nonexistent in fluids. During the flow of real fluids, the shearing stresses assume an important role, and their prediction is a vital part of engineering work. Without flow, however, shearing stresses cannot exist, and compression stress or pressure is the only stress to be considered (A Physical Introduction to Fluid Mechanics, by A. J. Smits, John Wiley & Sons, 2000).

So we see that the most obvious property of fluids, their ability to flow and change their shape, is precisely a result of their inability to support shearing stresses. Flow is possible without a shear stress, since differences in pressure will cause a fluid lump to experience a resultant force and produce an acceleration, but when a fluid is deforming its shape, shearing stresses must be present.

With this definition of a fluid, we can recognize that certain materials that look like solids are actually fluids. Tar, for example, is sold in barrel-sized chunks which appear at first sight to be the solid phase of the liquid which forms when the tar is heated. However, cold tar is also a fluid. If a brick is placed on top of an open barrel of tar, we will see it very slowly settle into the tar. It will continue to settle as time goes by --- the tar continues to deform under the applied load --- and eventually the brick will be engulfed by the tar. Even then it will continue to move downwards until it reaches the bottom of the barrel. Glass is another substance that appears to be solid, but is actually a fluid. The glass flows under the action of its own weight. If you measure the thickness of a very old glass pane you would find it to be larger at the bottom than at the top of the pane. This deformation happens very slowly because the glass has a very high viscosity, and the results can take centuries to become obvious. Another example: silly putty behaves like an elastic body when subject to rapid stress (it bounces like a ball) but it has fluid behavior under a slowly acting stress (it flows like a fluid under its own weight).

© Copyright on the images is held by the contributors. Apart from Fair Use, permission must be sought for any other purpose.