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Controlling friction by tuning van der Waals forces
Date:7/19/2013

This news release is available in German.

For a car to accelerate there has to be friction between the tire and the surface of the road. The amount of friction generated depends on numerous factors, including the minute intermolecular forces acting between the two surfaces in contact so-called van der Waals forces. The importance of these intermolecular interactions in generating friction has long been known, but has now been demonstrated experimentally for the first time by a research team led by Physics Professor Karin Jacobs from Saarland University and Professor Roland Bennewitz from the Leibniz Institute for New Materials (INM). Interestingly, the research team has shown that the friction acting at a material surface is influenced by the structure of the sub-surface layers.

Friction is an everyday phenomenon that is sometimes desirable (enabling cars to accelerate) and sometimes not (friction in the form of vehicle drag and friction in the engine and transmission system increase the car's energy consumption). For many scientists and engineers, the ability to control friction is therefore right at the top of their wish list. A possible approach to controlling friction has just been published by researchers at Saarland University and INM. They have discovered that frictional force is affected by the composition of the materials beneath the surface.

The work carried out by the Saarbrcken scientists involved taking a closer look at the intermolecular forces acting between two materials. In order to be able to vary these forces, the researchers worked with polished, single-crystal silicon wafers. 'The wafers are covered with silicon dioxide layers of different thicknesses and are similar to those used in the semiconductor industry,' explained Karin Jacobs, Profe
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Contact: Karin Jacobs
k.jacobs@physik.uni-saarland.de
Saarland University
Source:Eurekalert

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