The Tribology Laboratory at Lehigh University

Research overview

Welcome to the Tribology Laboratory at Lehigh University. Our research interests are at the intersection of mechanical engineering, materials science, surface physics and chemistry. Over the past decade traditional fields in Mechanical Engineering have merged with other fields, such as surface science, through the recognition of the importance of nanoscale mechanics and chemistries on macroscopic systems at interfaces.

The research focus of the laboratory is on the interfacial interactions of materials and energy dissipation of interacting materials. Our research activities in tribology are focused on the fundamental origins of friction, materials deformation (contact mechanics), adhesion, wetting behaviors, and wear on complex surfaces ranging from cells to nanocomposites in environments ranging from space to thousands of feet under water.


Generally, tribology is the “study that deals with interacting surfaces in relative motion and their associated design, friction, wear, and lubrication”. Tribology is a multidisciplinary field by nature because the interaction between surfaces can only be completely understood when considering the physics, chemistry, mechanics and materials of the interaction. In our studies in materials tribology, we aim to understand the physical and chemical interactions between contacting surfaces at an often inaccessible interface.

Our research in solid lubricants focuses on the developing and evaluation of solid lubricant materials, including polymers, nanocomposites, thin films and bio-inspired systems and their application in ultralow wear systems and extreme environments (including the space environment and high temperature applications).

We greatfully acknoledge funding from:

  • NSF
  • WD-40 Company
  • Sandia National Laboratories
  • Pennsylvania Infrastructure and Technology Alliance
  • Boulden Company
  • Lehigh Heavy Forge


Undergraduate Research Positions Available

Research Opportunities

Oportunity for hands on research experience.

Now Accepting Applications.

In the Tribology Laboratory, undergraduates will do experimental research focused on interfacial interactions of condensed matter. This includes studying the fundamental origins of friction, wear, surface deformation and adhesion on complex surfaces and materials ranging from cells to nanocomposites in environments ranging space to kilometers under water.

Active research includes analysis of materials that recently returned from the international space station, evaluating wear of dinosaur dental fossils, developing and patenting ultra-low wear polymer nanocomposites, studying and designing biocompatible and bio-inspired polymeric and hydrogel materials, and collaborating internationally on the physics of soft matter interactions. This research in tribology is at the intersection of mechanical engineering, materials science and surface physics.

Nanomechanical and Tribological Properties on Hadrosaurid Dinosaurs

Nanomechanical and Tribological Properties on Hadrosaurid

Prof. Greg Sawyer, Greg Erickson and Brandon Krick measured nanomechanical and tribological properties on hadrosaurid (duck-billed dinosaur) dental fossils from the American Museum of Natural History. Using custom instruments, we measured tissue hardness and wear rates that were preserved in the 65 million year old tooth. These properties are preserved in fossilized teeth because apatite mineral content is the major determinant of dental tissue hardness. Measured tissue wear rates were used to simulate the formation of hadrosaurid tooth chewing surfaces using a 3-D wear simulation. The simulation results in a surface profile nearly identical to a naturally worn hadrosaurid dental battery. The model revealed how each tissue (of differing wear rates) contributed to the formation of sophisticated slicing and grinding features in these reptiles tens of millions of years before mammals evolved analogous chewing capacity. This capacity to measure wear-relevant properties preserved in fossils provides a new route to study biomechanics throughout evolution. See Journal papers:
Science, October 5, 2012, pp.98-101.

Experiments back from the International Space Station

Space Tribometers and Samples back for analysis

Materials on the International Space Station Experiments Space Tribometerd

Materials on the International Space Station Experiments (MISSE) Space Tribometers were the first ever active tribometers directly exposed to the Low Earth Orbit Environment

The Tribology Laboratory at Lehigh University is under construction

The lab as of May 2013

The lab as of July, 3rd 2013

The main laboratory is located in Lehigh's Packard Laboratory.