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Hindered rolling and friction anisotropy in supported carbon nanotubes


Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are well known for their exceptional thermal, mechanical and electrical properties1,2,3,4,5,6. For many CNT applications it is of the foremost importance to know their frictional properties. However, very little is known about the frictional forces between an individual nanotube and a substrate or tip. Here, we present a combined theoretical and experimental study of the frictional forces encountered by a nanosize tip sliding on top of a supported multiwall CNT along a direction parallel or transverse to the CNT axis. Surprisingly, we find a higher friction coefficient in the transverse direction compared with the parallel direction. This behaviour is explained by a simulation showing that transverse friction elicits a soft ‘hindered rolling’ of the tube and a frictional dissipation that is absent, or partially absent for chiral CNTs, when the tip slides parallel to the CNT axis. Our findings can help in developing better strategies for large-scale CNT assembling and sorting on a surface.

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Figure 1: Friction measurements on CNTs.
Figure 2: Frictional forces for transverse and longitudinal sliding.
Figure 3: Shear strength and adhesion force.
Figure 4: Molecular dynamics simulation of the tip–nanotube interaction.
Figure 5: Molecular dynamics simulation of tip–nanotube friction force versus normal load.


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M.L. was financially supported by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the DOE (DE-FG02-06ER46293). E.R. acknowledges the NSF (DMR-0120967 and DMR-0706031) and DOE (DE-FG02-06ER46293) for summer salary support. Work in Trieste was supported by CNR under EUROCORES/FANAS/AFRI, as well as by a PRIN/COFIN contract.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.L. carried out the experiments and analysed the data. X.Z. carried out the molecular dynamics simulations and analysed the data. C.K. carried out the transmission electron microscopy measurements, provided the CNTs and contributed with active communication in carrying out the experiments. I.P. carried out the initial part of the experiments. E.T. conceived and designed the theory and analysed the data. E.R. conceived and designed the experiments and analysed the data. All authors contributed in writing the letter.

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Correspondence to Erio Tosatti or Elisa Riedo.

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Lucas, M., Zhang, X., Palaci, I. et al. Hindered rolling and friction anisotropy in supported carbon nanotubes. Nature Mater 8, 876–881 (2009).

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