Nanotribology

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Nanotribology is a branch of tribology which studies friction phenomenon at the nanometer scale (see nanotechnology, nanomechanics). The distinction between nanotribology and tribology is primarily due to the involvement of atomic forces in the determination of the final behavior of the system.

Gears, bearings, and liquid lubricants can reduce friction in the macroscopic world, but the origins of friction for small devices such as micro- or nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) require other solutions. Despite the unprecedented accuracy by which these devices are nowadays designed and fabricated, their enormous surface-volume ratio leads to severe friction and wear issues, which dramatically reduce their applicability and lifetime. Traditional liquid lubricants become too viscous when confined in layers of molecular thickness. This situation has led to a number of proposals for ways to reduce friction on the nanoscale, such as superlubricity and thermolubricity.

The major experimental tool which is used for nanotribological research is the Atomic Force Microscope, with its various modifications as well as Molecular Dynamics simulation. The experimental data about friction at the nanoscale suggest that the classical laws of friction, such as the Coulomb-Amontons laws, are still valid at the nanoscale, although the scale effect might be applied as well as additional nanofriction laws (e.g., the atomic stick-slip).

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