May 6, 2011
A friction-formed liquid gallium nanobridge, stretched between diamond (top) and aluminium (bottom) surfaces. Slight movement of the diamond away, breaks the bridge forming two liquid metal droplets. (nanowerk.com)
The formation of nanoscale liquid droplets by friction of a solid is observed in real-time. This is achieved using a newly developed in situ transmission electron microscope (TEM) triboprobe capable of applying multiple reciprocating wear cycles to a nanoscale surface. Dynamical imaging of the nanoscale cyclic rubbing of a focused-ion-beam (FIB) processed Al alloy by diamond shows that the generation of nanoscale wear particles is followed by a phase separation to form liquid Ga nanodroplets and liquid bridges. The transformation of a two-body system to a four-body solid-liquid system within the reciprocating wear track significantly alters the local dynamical friction and wear processes. Moving liquid bridges are observed in situ to play a key role at the sliding nanocontact, interacting strongly with the highly mobile nanoparticle debris. In situ imaging demonstrates that both static and moving liquid droplets exhibit asymmetric menisci due to nanoscale surface roughness. Nanodroplet kinetics are furthermore dependent on local frictional temperature, with solid-like surface nanofilaments forming on cooling. TEM nanotribology opens up new avenues for the real-time quantification of cyclic friction, wear and dynamic solid-liquid nanomechanics, which will have widespread applications in many areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology.