Mechanical Engineering Faculty Research


Atomic Friction Modulation on the Reconstructed Au(111) Surface

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 9-2011


Friction between a nanoscale tip and a reconstructed Au(111) surface is investigated both by atomic force microscopy (AFM) and molecular statics calculations. Lateral force AFM images exhibit atomic lattice stick–slip behavior with a superstructure corresponding to the herringbone reconstruction pattern. However, the superstructure contrast is not primarily due to variations in the local frictional dissipation (which corresponds to the local width of the friction loop). Rather, the contrast occurs primarily because the local centerline position of the friction loop is periodically shifted from its usual value of zero. Qualitatively, similar behavior is reproduced in atomistic simulations of an AFM tip sliding on the reconstructed Au(111) substrate. In both simulations and experiments, this centerline modulation effect is not observed on unreconstructed surfaces. Similarly, using a topographically flat surface as a hypothetical control system, the simulations show that the centerline modulation is not caused by variations in the reconstructed surface’s topography. Rather, we attribute it to the long-range variation of the local average value of the tip-sample interaction potential that arises from the surface reconstruction. In other words, surface atoms located at unfavorable sites, i.e., in the transition between face-centered-cubic (FCC) and hexagonal-close-packed (HCP) regions, have a higher surface free energy. This leads to a varying conservative force which locally shifts the centerline position of the friction force. This demonstrates that stick–slip behavior in AFM can serve as a rather sensitive probe of the local energetics of surface atoms, with an attainable lateral spatial resolution of a few nanometers.

Publication Title

Tribology Letters





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