A Rough View of Friction and Adhesion
This event is part of the Physics Department Colloquia Series.
Abstract: Friction affects many aspects of everyday life and has played a central role in technology dating from the creation of fire by rubbing sticks together to current efforts to make nanodevices with moving parts. The friction "laws" we teach today date from empirical relationships observed by da Vinci and Amontons centuries ago. However, understanding the microscopic origins of these laws remains a challenge. While Amontons said friction was proportional to load and independent of area, most modern treatments assume that friction is proportional to the real area of contact where atoms on opposing surfaces are close enough to repel. Calculating this area is complicated because elastic interactions are long range and surfaces are rough on a wide range of scales. In many cases they can be described as self-affine fractals from nanometer to millimeter scales. The talk will first show that this complex problem has a simple solution. Dimensional analysis implies a linear relation between real contact area and load that can explain both Amontons' laws and many exceptions to them. Next the talk will explain why we can't climb walls like spiderman even though the attractive interactions between atoms on our finger tips should provide enough force to support our weight. The talk will conclude by considering how forces in the contact area give rise to friction. Friction shows surprisingly counterintuitive and complex behavior in nanometer to micrometer scale contacts and only a few explanations are consistent with macroscopic measurements.