Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Science Friction (SciFri)

How is energy really dissipated on the atomic scale when sliding objects slip over a single lattice spacing?

ERC Advanced Grant ERC Advanced Grant

There is no fundamental law that dictates the necessity of losing energy in a sliding contact. In spite of its apparent simplicity, we have a relatively poor understanding of the mechanisms that determine how energy is lost when two bodies are forced to slide over one another.

The SciFri project will launch a research attack on friction that will not only deepen our fundamental insight into this important phenomenon but also involves the development of several strategies to significantly lower or ‘lose’ friction under practical circumstances.

We will address in detail how energy is really dissipated on the atomic scale when sliding objects slip over a single lattice spacing. And we will bring friction to a halt by employing two mechanisms that we have explored recently on the atomic scale: superlubricity and thermolubricity.

Scaling up the two friction-lowering effects to the macro-scale will be attempted by a combination of two completely novel approaches. One is the use of special coatings, namely single monolayers of graphene or hexagonal boron nitride. The other involves a specific nanopatterning of the contacting surfaces.

In our friction experiments and modeling we will cover the full range of length scales, from the atomic regime all the way to the practical scale of so-called MEMS devices. This will prove to be an essential element in the extrapolation of nanoscale behavior to friction on a practical level. We will further compare measurements in uncompromised (ultrahigh) vacuum with observations under controlled ambient conditions, in order to explore the role of the atmosphere.

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