electrochemical potential, reversible switching, superlubricity, nonlinear friction, adhesion


With the development of surface and interface science and technology, methods for the online modulation of interfacial performance by external stimuli are in high demand. Switching between ultra-low and high friction states is a particular goal owing to its applicability to the development of precision machines and nano/micro-electromechanical systems. In this study, reversible switching between superlubricity and high friction is realized by controlling the electric potential of a gold surface in aqueous salt solution sliding against a SiO2 microsphere. Applying positive potential results creates an ice-like water layer with high hydrogen bonding and adhesion at the interface, leading to nonlinear high friction. However, applying negative potential results in free water on the gold surface and negligible adhesion at the interface, causing linear ultra-low friction (friction coefficient of about 0.004, superlubricity state). A quantitative description of how the external load and interfacial adhesion affected friction force was developed, which agrees well with the experimental results. Thus, this work quantitatively reveals the mechanism of potential-controlled switching between superlubricity and high-friction states. Controlling the interfacial behavior via the electric potential could inspire novel design strategies for nano/micro-electromechanical and nano/micro-fluidic systems.


Tsinghua University Press

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