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A viscometer (also called viscosimeter) is an instrument used to measure the viscosity of a fluid. For liquids with viscosities which vary with flow conditions, an instrument called a rheometer is used. Viscometers only measure under one flow condition.

In general, either the fluid remains stationary and an object moves through it, or the object is stationary and the fluid moves past it. The drag caused by relative motion of the fluid and a surface is a measure of the viscosity. The flow conditions must have a sufficiently small value of Reynolds number for there to be laminar flow.

At 20.00 degrees Celsius the viscosity of water is 1.002 mPa·s and its kinematic viscosity (ratio of viscosity to density) is 1.0038 mm2/s. These values are used for calibrating certain types of viscometer.


Standard laboratory viscometers for liquids

U-tube viscometers

These devices also are known as glass capillary viscometers or Ostwald viscometers, named after Wilhelm Ostwald. Another version is the Ubbelohde viscometer, which consists of a U-shaped glass tube held vertically in a controlled temperature bath. In one arm of the U is a vertical section of precise narrow bore (the capillary). Above this is a bulb, with it is another bulb lower down on the other arm. In use, liquid is drawn into the upper bulb by suction, then allowed to flow down through the capillary into the lower bulb. Two marks (one above and one below the upper bulb) indicate a known volume. The time taken for the level of the liquid to pass between these marks is proportional to the kinematic viscosity. Most commercial units are provided with a conversion factor, or can be calibrated by a fluid of known properties.

The time required for the test liquid to flow through a capillary of a known diameter of a certain factor between two marked points is measured. By multiplying the time taken by the factor of the viscometer, the kinematic viscosity is obtained.

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