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The dynamic friction mechanisms of polyethylene and silicon were investigated for apparent contact pressures and contact areas in the ranges of 8 MPa–18 GPa and 17 nm2–9500 μm2, respectively. Friction force measurements were obtained with a friction force microscope, scanning force microscope, and pin-on-disk tribometer. Silicon and diamond tips with a nominal radius of curvature between 100 nm and 1.2 mm were slid against low- and high-density polyethylene and Si(100) substrates under contact loads in the range of 5 nN–0.27 N. The low friction coefficients obtained with all material systems at low contact pressures indicated that deformation at the sliding interface was primarily elastic. Alternatively, the significantly higher friction coefficients at higher contact pressures suggested that plastic deformation was the principal mode of deformation. The high friction coefficients of polyethylene observed with large apparent contact areas are interpreted in terms of the microstructure evolution involving the rearrangement of crystalline regions (lamellae) nearly parallel to the sliding direction, which reduces the surface resistance to plastic shearing. Such differences in the friction behavior of polyethylene resulting from stress-induced microstructural changes were found to occur over a relatively large range of the apparent contact area. The friction behavior of silicon was strongly affected by the presence of a native oxide film. Results are presented to demonstrate the effect of the scale of deformation at the contact interface on the dynamic friction behavior and the significance of contact parameters on the friction measurements obtained with different instruments. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.