Tribology Letters

, 65:148 | Cite as

An Integrated Force Probe and Quartz Crystal Microbalance for High-Speed Microtribology

  • Brian P. Borovsky
  • Christopher Bouxsein
  • Cullen O’Neill
  • Lucas R. Sletten


We have developed a technique for measuring frictional forces and contact areas, over a wide range of applied loads, at microscopic contacts reaching high sliding speeds near 1 m/s. Our approach is based on integrating two stand-alone methods: nanoindentation and quartz crystal microbalance (QCM). Energy dissipation and lateral contact stiffness are monitored by a transverse shear quartz resonator, while a spherical indenter probe is loaded onto its surface. Variations in these two quantities as functions of shear amplitude, with the normal load held fixed, reveal a transition from partial to full slip at a critical amplitude. Average values of both the threshold force for full slip and the kinetic friction during sliding are determined from these trends, and the contact area is inferred from the lateral stiffness at low shear amplitudes. Measurements are performed at loads ranging from 5 µN to 8 mN using an electrostatically actuated indenter probe. For the materials chosen in this study, we find that the full slip threshold force is about a factor of two larger than kinetic friction. The forces increase sublinearly with load in close correspondence with the contact area, and the shear strengths are found to be relatively insensitive to pressure. The threshold shear amplitude scales in proportion to the contact radius. These results demonstrate that the probe–QCM technique is a versatile and full-featured platform for microtribology in the speed range relevant to practical applications.


Microtribology Nanoindentation Quartz crystal microbalance Partial slip Microslip Shear strength 



The authors sincerely thank Edward Cyrankowski, Tom Dickinson, Trevor Knapp, Ian O’Neill, Mark Robbins, S. Syed Asif, Kathryn Wahl, and Oden Warren for helpful discussions. This work was supported by National Science Foundation grant CMMI 0758330 and by St. Olaf College.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhysicsSt. Olaf CollegeNorthfieldUSA

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