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Dynamic superlubricity and the elimination of wear on the nanoscale


One approach to ultrahigh-density data storage involves the use of arrays of atomic force microscope probes to read and write data on a thin polymer film, but damage to the ultrasharp silicon probe tips caused by mechanical wear has proved problematic. Here, we demonstrate the effective elimination of wear on a tip sliding on a polymer surface over a distance of 750 m by modulating the force acting on the tip–sample contact. Friction measurements as a function of modulation frequency and amplitude indicate that a reduction of friction is responsible for the reduction in wear to below our detection limit. In addition to its relevance to data storage, this approach could also reduce wear in micro- and nanoelectromechanical systems and other applications of scanning probe microscopes.

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Figure 1: Scanning electron micrograph of the cantilever and tip used in this study.
Figure 2: Wear data for tips sliding on a polymer surface with different load forces without electrostatic excitation.
Figure 3: Wear data for a tip sliding on a polymer surface with a modulated force acting on the tip–sample contact.
Figure 4: Friction measurements.
Figure 5: Finite-element simulations of the cantilever mode shapes.
Figure 6: Plots of friction signal versus mean amplitude of applied force.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge helpful discussions with A. Knoll and U. Duerig, and thank the probe storage team at the Zurich Research Laboratory. In particular, the authors thank H. Rothuizen for assistance with FEM modelling, M. Despont and U. Drechsler for assistance with the cantilevers, R. Pratt and J. Hedrick for the polymer samples, D. Jubin for experimental support, and E. Eleftheriou and P. Seidler for encouragement and support.

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Correspondence to Mark A. Lantz.

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Lantz, M., Wiesmann, D. & Gotsmann, B. Dynamic superlubricity and the elimination of wear on the nanoscale. Nature Nanotech 4, 586–591 (2009).

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