Because the sheet is so thin in some samples only an atom thick it deflects toward the tip, making a puckered shape and increasing the area of interaction between the tip and the sheet, which increases friction. When the tip starts to slide, the sheet deforms further as the deformed area is partially pulled along with the tip, rippling the front edge of the contact area. Thicker sheets cannot deflect as easily because they are much stiffer, so the increase in friction is less pronounced.
The researchers found that the increase in friction could be prevented if the atomic sheets were strongly bound to the substrate. If the materials were deposited onto the flat, high-energy surface of mica, a naturally occurring mineral, the effect goes away. Friction remains the same regardless of the number of layers because the sheets are strongly stuck down onto the mica, and no puckering can occur.
"Nanotechnology examines how materials behave differently as they shrink to the nanometer scale," Hone said. "On a fundamental level, it is exciting to find yet another property that fundamentally changes as a material gets smaller."
The results may also have practical implications for the design of nanomechanical devices that use graphene, which is one of the strongest materials known. It may also help researchers understand the macroscopic behavior of graphite, MoS2 and BN, which are used as common lubricants to reduce friction and wear in machines and devices.
|Contact: Jordan Reese|
University of Pennsylvania