What does “Non-Newtonian” really mean when it comes to bowling lane conditioners?

So, you know that non-Newtonian liquids are just like ketchup; you have to apply some force to make the liquid flow. But, what does “non-Newtonian” really mean?

You’ve likely heard of the English mathematician and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton. He is, after all, one of the most influential scientists of all time. He formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, laid the foundations of classical mechanics, and had a hand in developing calculus. He even did a lot of work in optics and built the first practical reflecting telescope!

Newton developed several scientific laws that described the relationship between forces, bodies, motion, and responses. You probably studied his three laws of motion in high school physics. You may have even studied Newton’s law of viscosity in school; though you may not have realized it!

Newton’s law of viscosity isn’t a fundamental law of nature (like the laws of motion or gravity). Rather, it is a relationship between two physical quantities; in this case, viscosity and force (called shear). When viscosity doesn’t change no matter how much force is applied; i.e. when viscosity is independent of shear; you have a Newtonian fluid. Most fluids are Newtonian and the most common one is water. Under normal conditions, the viscosity of water doesn’t change no matter how much force; or shear; is applied.

There are different kinds of non-Newtonian fluids; shear-thinning and shear-thickening are two of the more common kinds. The viscosity of these fluids will change depending on the amount of force that is applied. A shear-thinning fluid will experience a decrease in viscosity with more applied force while a shear-thickening fluid will experience an increase in viscosity with more applied force.

Ketchup is the perfect example of a non-Newtonian, shear-thinning fluid. You can turn the bottle upside down and wait for the ketchup to flow and it just never seems to happen. Give the bottle a couple of solid taps on the palm of your hand though, and the ketchup starts to ooze out of the bottle. The force applied to the bottle caused the viscosity of the ketchup to decrease (the ketchup became thinner) enough so that the ketchup would flow from the bottle. Once a force is no longer being applied; i.e. the ketchup is on the plate; the ketchup returns to its original viscosity and sits in a blob on the plate.

All that is cool, but how does this relate to lane conditioners?

Well, with a non-Newtonian conditioner, each bowler will see slight variations in ball motion. For example, a high-rev, high-speed player; here’s looking at you, cranker; will apply a lot of force to the conditioner. As such, the shear applied to the conditioner will cause the viscosity of the conditioner to decrease. This will allow the player to see a little more push; the ball will skid where it needs to skid. A low-rev, low-speed player; that’s all you strokers out there; will apply a lot less force to the conditioner. The shear applied to the conditioner won’t cause as much of a decrease in viscosity as the cranker saw. As such, the stroker will see a little more friction so the ball will read and pick-up where it needs to pick-up. In simpler terms, the stroker will see “good friction” while the cranker will see a little more slickness.

Of course, this is all on a very small scale. A 200 rev rate bowler might “see” the viscosity as 70 cps while a 500 rev rate bowler might “see” the viscosity as 65 cps. In the scheme of viscosity, 5 cps is very small. So, what the ball; and the bowler; see is very subtle. But, it’s just enough to help all bowlers find good ball reaction.

Learn more about Kegel’s non-Newtonian Lane Conditioner, Terrain.