Tribology (the study of contacting materials in relative motion) was formally introduced in Jost’s 1966 report on the staggering amount of money wasted due to the friction and wear of materials1. In a more recent report, improvements in frictional losses in passenger automobiles in the next 15-20 years could save the world 1 x 10^11 gallons of gasoline per year, reduce CO2 emission by 1000 (million) tons per year and would result in an energy reduction of 13,472,000 TJ/year1. Improvements gained in automobile lubrication technology would not be limited to use in gasoline powered vehicles, but could be applied to alternatively powered vehicles and can be extended beyond transportation and be used in energy production (in generators and turbines), advances in manufacturing technology and any other system with sliding contacts and frictional losses (industrial equipment and commercial devices). Wear of materials could easily have as much of a functional and economic impact as friction. Replacement of worn components is costly due to component costs, replacement labor costs, losses from equipment downtime and the environmental impacts of discarding components.


The friction and wear behavior of materials depend on many parameters and conditions, including: material pairing, contact geometry, applied normal load, contact pressures, relative sliding speed, material surface topography and roughness, environment, temperature, chemical interactions and sliding configuration. Many mechanical assemblies must work in multiple sliding and environmental conditions (i.e. automobiles, watercraft, satellites and other spacecraft and wind, water and solar energy conversion devices, engine startup vs. steady state).

Complexity of Tribological Systems

The present global trend for efficiency, sustainability and the desire to push designs be faster and stronger, last longer and operate in extreme conditions has pushed the fundamental need for material development, specifically in the field of tribology. Advanced tribological materials must be designed and paired for specific, often extreme, environments and operating conditions. Advanced materials could allow engines to operate at higher temperatures and be much more efficient and contribute to the DOE mission as well as realizing the Advanced Manufacturing Office’s goal to develop and deploy new, energy-efficient technologies for manufacturing.

Broader impacts of friction and wear

The specialized field in tribology specifically focused to solve these materials problems is Materials Tribology

Jost, P. Lubrication (Tribology) - Education and Research. A Report on the Present Position and Industry Needs, Department of Education and Science, HM Stationary Office, London, 1966.

Holmberg, K., P. Andersson, and A. Erdemir. Tribology International, 2012. 47(0): p. 221-234.


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.