Materials Tribology

Materials for Energy and Sustainability

Billions of dollars are spent on energy research each year with research objectives and strategies ranging from developing new forms of energy to cleaner use of energy. However, the mantra for the energy problem has always been “efficiency first.” An unfathomable amount of energy is consumed in frictional losses at sliding interfaces and excessive amounts of materials are consumed to wear. Considering passenger automobiles alone, improvements in frictional losses in the next 15-20 years could save the world 1 x 1011 gallons of gasoline per year and would result in an energy reduction of 13,472,000 TJ/year. Wear of materials could easily have as much of a functional and economic impact as friction. Wear often leads to the end-of-useful-life of a component, resulting in discarding to landfills. Replacement of worn components has a substantial financial impact which includes component costs, replacement labor costs and losses from equipment downtime. Ultimately, a fundamental understanding of interfacial interactions and dissipations could promote development of reliable friction and low-wear materials to improve current interface technologies.

Impacts of friction and wear

Using these engineered materials would result in substantial positive economic and environmental impacts, by reducing energy consumed by friction and materials consumed by wear in nearly all moving mechanical assemblies. One such material studied in the Tribology Laboratory is ultra-low-wear, low-friction hierarchical and multifunctional nanocomposites based on PTFE (Teflon®; lowest friction coefficient of any bulk polymer) that reduce its wear by more than 10,000 times with the inclusion of a few volume percent filler. Please see the polymers, polymer composites and polymer nanocomposites page in the material systems section for more information.

Ultralow wear PTFE nanocomposites


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.