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Friction in the nano-world: Physicists discover a new kind of friction

Date:
May 15, 2013
Source:
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Summary:
Whether in vehicle transmissions, hip replacements, or tiny sensors for triggering airbags: The respective components must slide against each other with minimum friction to prevent loss of energy and material wear. Investigating the friction behavior of nanosystems, scientists have discovered a previously unknown type of friction that sheds new light on some previously unexplainable phenomena.

A polymer chain tied to the tip of an atomic force microscope.
Credit: Image: B. Balzer/TUM

Whether in vehicle transmissions, hip replacements, or tiny sensors for triggering airbags: The respective components must slide against each other with minimum friction to prevent loss of energy and material wear. Investigating the friction behavior of nanosystems, scientists from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have discovered a previously unknown type of friction that sheds new light on some previously unexplainable phenomena.

Friction is an omnipresent but often annoying physical phenomenon: It causes wear and energy loss in machines as well as in our joints. In search of low-friction components for ever smaller components, a team of physicists led by the professors Thorsten Hugel and Alexander Holleitner now discovered a previously unknown type of friction that they call "desorption stick."

The researchers examined how and why single polymer molecules in various solvents slide over or stick to certain surfaces. Their goal was to understand the basic laws of physics at the molecular scale in order to develop targeted anti-friction surfaces and suitable lubricants.

For their studies the scientists attached the end of a polymer molecule to the nanometer-fine tip of a highly sensitive atomic force microscope (AFM). While they pulled the polymer molecule over test surfaces, the AFM measured the resulting forces, from which the researchers could directly deduce the behavior of the polymer coil.

New friction mechanism discovered

Besides the two expected friction mechanisms such as sticking and sliding the researchers detected a third one for certain combinations of polymer, solvent and surface.

"Although the polymer sticks to the surface, the polymer strand can be pulled from its coiled conformation into the surrounding solution without significant force to be exerted," experimental physicist Thorsten Hugel describes this behavior. "The cause is probably a very low internal friction within the polymer coil."

The key is the solvent

Surprisingly, desorption stick depends neither on the speed of movement nor on the support surface or adhesive strength of the polymer. Instead, the chemical nature of the surface and the quality of the solvent are decisive. For example, hydrophobic polystyrene exhibits pure sliding behavior when dissolved in chloroform. In water, however, it shows desorption stick.

"The understanding gained by our measurement of single-molecule friction opens up new ways to minimize friction," says Alexander Holleitner. "In the future, with targeted preparation of polymers, new surfaces could be developed specifically for the nano- and micrometer range."

The work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Cluster of Excellence Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bizan N. Balzer, Markus Gallei, Moritz V. Hauf, Markus Stallhofer, Lorenz Wiegleb, Alexander Holleitner, Matthias Rehahn, Thorsten Hugel. Nanoscale Friction Mechanisms at Solid-Liquid Interfaces. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/anie.201301255

Cite This Page:

Technische Universitaet Muenchen. "Friction in the nano-world: Physicists discover a new kind of friction." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515113831.htm>.
Technische Universitaet Muenchen. (2013, May 15). Friction in the nano-world: Physicists discover a new kind of friction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515113831.htm
Technische Universitaet Muenchen. "Friction in the nano-world: Physicists discover a new kind of friction." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515113831.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

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