Critical length scale controls adhesive wear mechanisms
The adhesive wear process remains one of the least understood areas of mechanics. While it has long been established that adhesive wear is a direct result of contacting surface asperities, an agreed upon understanding of how contacting asperities lead to wear debris particle has remained elusive. This has restricted adhesive wear prediction to empirical models with limited transferability. Here we show that discrepant observations and predictions of two distinct adhesive wear mechanisms can be reconciled into a unified framework. Using atomistic simulations with model interatomic potentials, we reveal a transition in the asperity wear mechanism when contact junctions fall below a critical length scale. A simple analytic model is formulated to predict the transition in both the simulation results and experiments. This new understanding may help expand use of computer modelling to explore adhesive wear processes and to advance physics-based wear laws without empirical coefficients.