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Penn and Brown researchers demonstrate earthquake friction effect at the nanoscale
Date:11/30/2011

inert. As they don't easily form chemical bonds with silica, any frictional aging that occurred with them would necessarily be due to changing contact area and not increased bond strength.

The results showed a stark difference in the frictional aging between the materials.

"We saw a huge amount of aging with silica on silica. But with silica on diamond or graphite, even though the tip is experiencing about the same stress levels, we see almost no aging," Li said. "If the increasing contact area was responsible for the increase in frictional aging, you would see similar amounts in these cases. You might even see more aging with diamond because it is stiffer, leading to a slightly higher stress level in the silica, and this would cause more deformation on the tip."

The frictional aging seen in the silica-on-silica experiment was so intense that the researchers had another mystery on their hands: how to reconcile strong aging on the nanoscale with the weaker level seen on the macroscale where earthquakes actually occur.

The solution to that puzzle stems from the fact that not all contact points are created equal. Two different contact points on the same surface that are close to one another will sense each other's presence. This "elastic coupling," as it is known, means that only a few of the contact points within an area will be resisting the sliding motion at their full capacity; some will have started to slide earlier, and others will slide later. It is too difficult to make them all slide at once.

So, the overall level of resistance relies not only on the maximum resistance any contact point can provide, but also on the small fraction of contact points able to provide this resistance.

"When you take a lot of contact points,"Carpick said, "all of them could have this large amount of aging. But when you try to shear them, you see only a small fraction reach that very high value of friction at any given tim
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Contact: Evan Lerner
elerner@upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert

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