Materials Tribology

Reliability of Materials in Extreme Environments

Another focus of our research is to develop materials for reliable operation in extreme environments. Complicating the reliable performance of materials is the interaction between materials and surrounding environmental constituents such as vacuum, gases, or heat/cold for application environments ranging from space to the human body. These environments preclude the use of traditional engineering materials that wear away or otherwise degrade quickly, which continues to challenge design engineers with ever increasing performance demands.

Reliability of Materials in Extreme Environments: Applications for the Department of Defense

MISSE 7: Space Tribology

Space Tribology: Fundamental and Applied Challenges

While studying the effects of the low earth orbit environment on space materials, we designed, built and sent experiments, including eight active tribometers (measure friction and wear) and more than 32 passive exposure samples, to low earth orbit as part of the Materials on the International Space Station Experiments (MISSE). These experiments resulted in certification of several new space materials as well as preventing application of one failed coating that was planned to be used on several commercial and military satellites. Failure of this coating could have resulted in mission failure in satellites that can cost at least several hundred million dollars.

Materials on the International Space Station (MISSE) Tribometers MISSE 7- Materials on the International Space Station Experiments (7th mission)

Purpose: To characterize the performance of new and existing materials when subjected to the synergistic effects of the space environment.
Launch: STS 129 - November 2009
Recovery: STS 134 - May 2011
Duration: Approximately 18 months
What is MISSE?
MISSE is a set of experiments mounted externally on the ISS.
-Active and Passive experiments
-Powered by the ISS
-Uplink and downlink communication capabilities
Collaborative effort between government, industry, and academia. Legacy hardware and a well developed program allows express turnaround, low cost materials experiments in space.

PTFE Tribology in Space


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.