A graphen nanoribbon was anchored at the tip of a atomic force microscope
and dragged over a gold surface. The observed friction force was extremely low.
(Image: University of Basel, Department of Physics)
(February 25, 2016) Graphene, a modified form of carbon, offers versatile potential for use in coating machine components and in the field of electronic switches. An international team of researchers led by physicists at the University of Basel have been studying the lubricity of this material on the nanometer scale. Since it produces almost no friction at all, it could drastically reduce energy loss in machines when used as a coating, as the researchers report in the journal Science.
In future, graphene could be used as an extremely thin coating, resulting in almost zero energy loss between mechanical parts. This is based on the exceptionally high lubricity – or so-called superlubricity – of modified carbon in the form of graphene. Applying this property to mechanical and electromechanical devices would not only improve energy efficiency but also considerably extend the service life of the equipment.
Fathoming out the causes of the lubricant behavior
An international community of physicists from the University of Basel and the Empa have studied the above-average lubricity of graphene using a two-pronged approach combining experimentation and computation. To do this, they anchored two-dimensional strips of carbon atoms – so-called graphene nanoribbons – to a sharp tip and dragged them across a gold surface. Computer-based calculations were used to investigate the interactions between the surfaces as they moved across one another. Using this approach, the research team led by Prof. Ernst Meyer at the University of Basel is hoping to fathom out the causes of superlubricity; until now, little research has been carried out in this area.