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News

Understanding how friction works - what if the nanoworld slides?

SISSA : 12 November, 2012  (Special Report)
A study published by three SISSA researchers - in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) provides a new tool to better understand how sliding friction works in nanotribology, through colloidal crystals.
Understanding how friction works - what if the nanoworld slides?

By studying systems of charged microparticles, researchers are able to analyse friction forces through molecular dynamics simulations with unprecedented accuracy.

“There are several and very concrete possibilities”, states Andrea Vanossi, one of the members of the research group. “The progressive miniaturisation of high-tech components and of all the different nanotechnology sectors - if we understand how friction works at these levels, we will be able to create even more effective molecular motors or functional microsystems”.

Colloids are part of our everyday life (milk, asphalt or smoke), differentiated according to the state of the dispersed and dispersing substance (liquid, solid or gaseous).

The simulations were performed by SISSA in collaboration with ICTP, the Department of Physics in Milan and the CNR-IOM Institute for Materials Manufacturing and they allowed understanding what happens when a colloidal monolayer slides against an optical reticle modifying some parameters such as surface corrugation, drift speed or contact geometry.

The research method is new - before this simulation was performed, only some recent experiments carried out in Germany tried for the first time to describe the behaviour of individual particles of a colloid in friction conditions, but never in such a precise way.

Researchers also suggest a way to directly extract the energy lost in friction by using the sliding data of the colloid. “This study will make it possible to predict the different regimes of static friction arising due to the density of colloids and the strength of the optical reticle”, added Erio Tosatti, another member of the research group. “We can confirm that crystalline solid surfaces will act in a similar way, a hypothesis which we have never been able to make before”.

Static and dynamic friction in sliding colloidal monolayers
Andrea Vanossi, Nicola Manini, and Erio Tosatti - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1213930109

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