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

ssor of Experimental Physics at Saarland University.

Jacobs' team precisely measured the friction between silicon dioxide (SiO2) layers of different thicknesses and the 200-nm tip of an atomic force microscopy probe by carefully scanning the tip across the wafer surface. What the physicists discovered was surprising: although the uppermost layer of the surface always consisted purely of SiO2, the tip of the atomic force microscope experienced different frictional forces depending on the thickness of the silicon dioxide layer. 'The thinner the oxide layer, the greater the friction,' said Jacobs. The study found that the frictional forces associated with the wafers differed by as much as 30 per cent depending on the thickness of the SiO2 layer. The effect was also observed when the silicon wafers were covered with a water-repellent monolayer of silane molecules (long-chain hydrocarbons).

'The results of our study have significant implications for many practical applications,' said Professor Jacobs. 'As the strength of the van der Waals forces depends on the composition of a material to depths of up to 100 nanometres, carefully designing the layer structure at the surface of a material can reduce friction. This gives us another approach to controlling friction in addition to the established use of lubricants.'


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Contact: Karin Jacobs
k.jacobs@physik.uni-saarland.de
Saarland University
Source:Eurekalert

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