Triboemission of hydrocarbon molecules from diamond-like carbon friction interface induces atomic-scale wear

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Science Advances  15 Nov 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 11, eaax9301
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax9301


Understanding atomic-scale wear is crucial to avoid device failure. Atomic-scale wear differs from macroscale wear because chemical reactions and interactions at the friction interface are dominant in atomic-scale tribological behaviors, instead of macroscale properties, such as material strength and hardness. It is particularly challenging to reveal interfacial reactions and atomic-scale wear mechanisms. Here, our operando friction experiments with hydrogenated diamond-like carbon (DLC) in vacuum demonstrate the triboemission of various hydrocarbon molecules from the DLC friction interface, indicating its atomic-scale chemical wear. Furthermore, our reactive molecular dynamics simulations reveal that this triboemission of hydrocarbon molecules induces the atomic-scale mechanical wear of DLC. As the hydrogen concentration in hydrogenated DLC increases, the chemical wear increases while mechanical wear decreases, indicating an opposite effect of hydrogen concentration on chemical and mechanical wear. Consequently, the total wear shows a concave hydrogen concentration dependence, with an optimal hydrogen concentration for wear reduction of around 20%.

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