Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid which is being deformed by either shear or tensile stress. In everyday terms (and for fluids only), viscosity is "thickness" or "internal friction". Thus, water is "thin", having a lower viscosity, while honey is "thick", having a higher viscosity. Put simply, the less viscous the fluid is, the greater its ease of movement (fluidity).

The viscosity test measures the viscosity of an asphalt. Both the viscosity test and the penetration test measure the consistency of an asphalt at some specified temperatures and are used to designate grades of asphalts. The advantage of using the viscosity test as compared with the penetration test is that the viscosity test measures a fundamental physical property rather than an empirical value. Viscosity is defined as the ratio between the applied shear stress and induced shear rate of a fluid.

When shear rate is expressed in units of 1/sec. and shear stress in units of Pascal, viscosity will be in units of Pascal-seconds. One Pascal-second is equal to 10 Poises. The lower the viscosity of an asphalt, the faster the asphalt will flow under the same stress. For a Newtonian fluid, the relationship between shear stress and shear rate is linear, and thus the viscosity is constant at different shear rates or shear stress. However, for a non-Newtonian fluid, the relationship between shear stress and shear rate is not linear, and thus the apparent viscosity will change as the shear rate or shear stress changes.

Asphalts tend to behave as slightly non-Newtonian fluids, especially at lower temperatures. When different methods are used to measure the viscosity of an asphalt, the test results might be significantly different, since the different methods might be measuring the viscosity at different shear rates. It is thus very important to indicate the test method used when viscosity results are presented.

The most commonly used viscosity test on asphalt cements is the Absolute Viscosity Test by Vacuum Capillary Viscometer (ASTM D2171).

The standard test temperature is 60 °C. The absolute viscosity test measures the viscosity in units of Poise. The viscosity at 60 °C represents the viscosity of the asphalt at the maximum temperature a pavement is likely to experience in most parts of the U.S. When the viscosity of an asphalt at a higher temperature (such as 135 °C) is to be determined, the most commonly-used test is the Kinematic Viscosity Test (ASTM D2170), which measures the kinematic viscosity in units of Stokes or centi-Stokes.

Kinematic viscosity is defined as: When viscosity is in units of Poise and density in units of g/cm, 3 the kinematic viscosity will be in units of Stokes. To convert from kinematic viscosity (in units of Stokes) to absolute viscosity (in units of Poises), one simply multiplies the number of Stokes by the density in units of g/cm3.

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