Investigation of the Mechanics, Composition, and Functional Behavior of Thick Tribofilms Formed from Silicon- and Oxygen-Containing Hydrogenated Amorphous Carbon


A custom-grown silicon and oxygen-containing hydrogenated amorphous carbon (a-C:H:Si:O) film is subjected to ball-on-flat tribometry under controlled sliding environments (ambient, dry air, and dry N2) at room temperature using a 52100 steel ball. The resulting friction coefficient is below 0.2 in ambient air and below 0.1 in dry N2. Tribofilms on the steel ball with thicknesses in excess of 500 nm are observed. The tribofilms are derived from the a-C:H:Si:O and grow on the steel ball, and display chemical and structural modifications relative to the original a-C:H:Si:O film. Sliding of the tribofilm-coated steel ball against bare silicon results in low friction, highlighting the inherent lubricity afforded by the tribofilm. Tribofilms grown through sliding against a-C:H:Si:O are characterized, post-sliding, with multiple spectroscopic and imaging techniques which collectively demonstrate that the composition and structure of the tribofilm is strongly dependent on the sliding environment. The unusually high tribofilm thickness allows for nanoindentation analysis, which demonstrates that the films are laterally heterogenous and softer than the original a-C:H:Si:O, with moduli and hardness values ranging over three orders of magnitude. Many regions of the tribofilms are extremely soft, with measured hardness values below 100 MPa and reduced Young’s moduli below 1 GPa, and also show a viscous mechanical response. Transmission electron microscopy and electron energy loss spectroscopy (TEM/EELS) characterization of the tribofilm demonstrates that the bulk structure is not graphitic, and indicates the tribofilms are enriched in C−H bonding. Additionally, there is a marked segregation within the tribofilm of Si/O and carbon. It is proposed that a primarily polymeric tribofilm structure can explain the observed mechanical properties.

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This material is based upon work supported by the Advanced Storage Technology Consortium ASTC (Grant 2011-012), the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DMR-1107642, the National Science Foundation through the University of Pennsylvania Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) (DMR-1720530), and by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche under Grant No. ANR-11- NS09-01 through the Materials World Network program. Additional travel support was provided by Programme Avenir Lyon-Saint-Etienne and Region Rhône-Alpes. NSF Major Research Instrumentation Grant DMR-0923245 and use of the Scanning and Local Probe Facility of the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, which is supported by the NSF National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure Program under grant NNCI-1542153, are acknowledged. J.B.M. acknowledges support of a Graduate Research Supplement for Veterans from the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the National Science Foundation. MLT and ACL gratefully acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation Major Instrumentation Award #1429661. The authors would like to thank Prof. Kevin Turner for use of the Hysitron TI-950 Triboindenter and Dr. Yijie Jiang for extensive training and assistance in the use of the indenter. The authors would also like to thank Michel Belin and Dr. Komlavi Dzidula Koshigan for instruction and advice in the use of the environmental tribometer. F.M. acknowledges support from the Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship for Career Development within the 7th European Community Framework Program under contract no. PIOF-GA-2012-328776 and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Program under contract no. 706289. The acquisition of the instrumentation used for this work was partially supported by the U.S. Department of Defense DURIP program under Air Force Grant FA9550-16-1-0525.

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Correspondence to R. W. Carpick.

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McClimon, J.B., Lang, A.C., Milne, Z. et al. Investigation of the Mechanics, Composition, and Functional Behavior of Thick Tribofilms Formed from Silicon- and Oxygen-Containing Hydrogenated Amorphous Carbon. Tribol Lett 67, 48 (2019).

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  • Diamond-like carbon
  • Silicon and oxygen-containing hydrogenated amorphous carbon (a-C:H:Si:O)
  • Hydrogenated amorphous carbon (a-C:H)
  • Tribofilm
  • Transfer film
  • Nanoindentation