Tribology Letters

, 66:154 | Cite as

An In Situ Method for Simultaneous Friction Measurements and Imaging of Interfacial Tribochemical Film Growth in Lubricated Contacts

  • N. N. GosvamiEmail author
  • J. Ma
  • R. W. CarpickEmail author
Original Paper


Tribological investigations of macroscopic lubricated sliding contacts are critical for a wide range of industrial applications including automotive engines, gears, bearings, and any other contacting surfaces in relative motion. However, the inability of existing techniques to access buried sliding interfaces with high spatial resolution inhibits the development of fundamental insights into the tribological processes at play. Here we demonstrate a novel and general in situ method, based on atomic force microscopy (AFM), in which micrometer-scale spherical probes are attached to a standard microfabricated AFM cantilever which is then slid over a substrate while immersed in a liquid lubricant. In this case, steel colloidal probes and steel substrates were used, and the contact was immersed in a commercial polyalphaolefin oil with zinc dialkyl dithiophosphate (ZDDP) additive at both room temperature and 100 °C, but the method can be used for a broad range of material combinations, lubricants, and temperatures. We demonstrate that the in situ measurements of friction force and the morphological evolution of the tribochemical films on the substrate can be simultaneously achieved with nanometer-level spatial resolution. In addition, we demonstrate that the sliding zone is readily accessible for further characterization with higher spatial resolution using standard AFM probes with nanometer-scale tip radii. Ex situ characterization of the micrometer-scale probe and the sample is also feasible, which is demonstrated by acquiring high-resolution AFM topographic imaging of the final state of the probe.


Tribochemical films Lubricated contacts Antiwear additives Zinc dialkyl dithiophosphate Atomic force microscopy 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under grants CMMI-1200019 and CMMI-1728360, and the University of Pennsylvania through the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER). The authors acknowledge the use of University of Pennsylvania Nano/Bio Interface Center Facilities and the Nanoscale Characterization Facility in the Singh Center for Nanotechnology. We thank Mr. Qizhan Tam for MATLAB analysis. The authors gratefully acknowledge helpful discussions with Prof. Andrew Jackson.

Supplementary material

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11249_2018_1112_MOESM2_ESM.docx (204 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 204 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied MechanicsUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Materials Science and EngineeringUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Materials Science and EngineeringIndian Institute of Technology DelhiNew DelhiIndia
  4. 4.W. L. Gore and AssociatesElktonUSA

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