Static or breakloose friction for lubricated contacts: the role of surface roughness and dewetting

B. Lorenz, B. A. Krick, N. Rodriguez, W. G. Sawyer, P. Mangiagalli and B. N. J. Persson


We present experimental data for the static or breakloose friction for lubricated elastomer contacts, as a function of the time of stationary contact. Due to fluid squeeze-out from the asperity contact regions, the breakloose friction force increases continuously with the time of stationary contact. We consider three different cases: (a) PDMS rubber balls against flat smooth glass surfaces, (b) PDMS cylinder ribs against different substrates (glass, smooth and rough PMMA and an inert polymer) and (c) application to syringes. Due to differences in the surface roughness and contact pressures the three systems exhibit very different time dependences of the breakloose friction. In case (a) for rough surfaces the dry contact area A is a small fraction of the nominal contact area A0, and the fluid squeeze-out is fast. In case (b) the dry contact area is close to the nominal contact area, A/A0 ˜ 1, and fluid squeeze-out is very slow due to percolation of the contact area. In this case, remarkably, different fluids with very different viscosities, ranging from 0.005 Pa s (water–glycerol mixture) to 1.48 Pa s (glycerol), give very similar breakloose friction forces as a function of the time of stationary contact. In case (c) the contact pressure and the surface roughness are larger than in case (b), and the squeeze-out is very slow so that even after a very long time the area of real contact is below the percolation threshold. For all cases (a)–(c), the increase in the breakloose friction is mainly due to the increase in the area of real contact with increasing time, because of the fluid squeeze-out and dewetting.

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[pdf version] or DOI: 10.1088/0953-8984/25/44/445013


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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.