Friction at the Nano-scale

Friction at the nanoscale : Here you can see a nanoscale video of how rubbing a diamond (on left) on aluminium metal alloy (on right) has broken-up the surface to make 100nm nanoparticles. The nanoparticles move as the diamond is rubbed back and forth. Friction makes a nanoscale hot-spot, and tiny nanoscale liquid droplets have formed at the surface making the particles stick to the diamond.

Many everyday and industrial objects suffer surface damage due to friction, and understanding how damage occurs with time is fundamental to trying to design new materials that are resistant to damage, last longer and are therefore better value for us and the environment. 

It is surprisingly difficult to examine in real-time how friction works at the nanoscale level due to the sheer difficulty of rubbing objects together and imaging them at a scale of a billionth of a metre the same time. This video imaging friction at the nanoscale has been enabled by building a special nanorobotic device -- a TEM triboprobe -- which can move and repeatedly scratch materials with nanoscale resolution inside an electron microscope fitted with a digital camera to record the friction on video. The development of the TEM triboprobe has been funded by the UK EPSRC Basic Technology Programme designed to develop fundamental new technologies for future science. 

FRICTION EDUCATION: More information on this video can be obtained by reading 'Friction-formed liquid droplets', A. Lockwood, K Anantheshwara, MS Bobji, BJ Inkson, Nanotechnology, 22, 105703 (2011).