, 35:131

Noise-activated dissociation of soft elastic contacts

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Abstract

Adhesive forces are capable of deforming a soft elastic object when it comes in contact with a flat rigid substrate. The contact is in stable equilibrium if the total energy of the system arising from the elastic and surface forces exhibits a minimum at a zero or at a slightly negative load. However, as the system is continually unloaded, the energy barrier decreases and it eventually disappears, thus leading to a ballistic separation of the contact. While this type of contact splitting has received wide recognition, what has not been much appreciated with these types of soft adhesion problems is that rupture of a contact can also occur at any finite sub critical load in the presence of a noise. The soft contact problems are unique in that the noise can be athermal, whereas the metastable and stable states of the thermodynamic potential can arise from the competition of the elastic and the interfacial energies of the system. Analysis based on Kramers' theory and simulations based on Langevin dynamics show that the contact rupture dynamics is amenable to an Eyring's form of a force and noise-induced escape of a particle from a potential well that is generic to various types of colloidal and macromolecular processes. These ideas are useful in understanding the results of a recent experiment involving the noise-activated rolling dynamics of a rigid sphere on a surface, where it is pinned by soft micro-fibrillar contacts.

Graphical abstract