Dry sliding contact between rough surfaces at the atomistic scale

Although, a lot is known about the factors contributing to friction, a complete physical understanding of the origins of friction is still lacking. At the macroscale several laws have long since described the relation between load (Amontons, Coulomb), apparent and real area of contact (Bowden and Tabor), and frictional forces. But it is not yet completely understood if these laws of friction extend all the way down to the atomistic level. Some current research suggests that a linear dependence of friction on the real contact area is observed at the atomistic level, but only for specific cases (indentors and rigid substrates). Because continuum models are not applicable at the atomic scale, other modeling techniques (such as molecular dynamics simulations) are necessary to elucidate the physics of friction at the small scale. We use molecular dynamics simulations to model the friction of two rough deformable surfaces, while changing the surface roughness, the sliding speed, and the applied normal load. We find that friction increases with roughness. Also all sliding cases show considerable surface flattening, reducing the friction close to zero after repetitive sliding. This questions the current view of (static) roughness at the atomistic scale, and possibly indicates that the macroscopic laws of friction break down several orders of magnitude before reaching the atomic scale.

Published in:
Tribology Letters, 44, 279-285
Springer Verlag

 Record created 2011-09-15, last modified 2018-01-28

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