Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 237–248

Mechanics and Friction at the Nanometer Scale


  • Michael R. Falvo
    • Department of Physics and AstronomyThe University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Richard Superfine
    • Department of Physics and AstronomyThe University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

DOI: 10.1023/A:1010017130136

Cite this article as:
Falvo, M.R. & Superfine, R. Journal of Nanoparticle Research (2000) 2: 237. doi:10.1023/A:1010017130136


In this overview, we will give an introduction to experiments in which manipulation is used a means of uncovering the intrinsic response and dynamical behavior of small objects. Experiments done on individual particles reveal new and rich behaviors that are inaccessible to averaging methods. Experiments exploring the stiffness and toughness of carbon nanotubes will be presented showing that nanometer scale engineered materials can far outperform current engineering materials. Through AFM manipulation, imaging and force measurements, the stiffness of this material was found to equal or exceed diamond. Their toughness is also extraordinary. Due to their near crystalline perfection, carbon nanotubes are able to undergo strains exceeding 15% during bending without damage. Through AFM manipulation experiments, these large deformations have been shown to be highly reversible. Experiments in which the lateral force of manipulation of small objects across surfaces is measured show that friction at the nanometer scale occurs without wear processes and is an intrinsic property of the particular interface. Results are also presented showing anisotropic behavior in friction and movement due to commensurate lattice effects. At the nanometer scale, the contacting surfaces can be nearly perfect so that commensurate effects are not partially averaged out by many differently oriented domains. It has been shown that friction can very over an order of magnitude depending on the relative orientation of the contacting surfaces. The relative orientation of object and substrate lattices also can determine the modes of motion. In some cases the particle is confined to move in one direction. In other cases the relative orientation determines whether the particle rolls, rotates in-plane or slides. These effects may have implications on the fundamental mechanisms of friction. They provide a laboratory for testing different geometrical configurations of atoms sliding on atoms. The results may also have implications in the design of nanometer scale electromechanical mechanisms.


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000