Nanoscale friction varied by isotopic shifting of surface vibrational frequencies

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Friction converts kinetic energy at sliding interfaces into lattice vibrations, but the detailed mechanisms of this process remain unresolved. Atomic force microscopy measurements reveal that changing the mass of the terminating atoms on a surface, and thus their vibrational frequencies, affects nanoscale friction substantially. We compared hydrogen- and deuterium-terminated single-crystal diamond and silicon surfaces, and in all cases the hydrogenated surface exhibited higher friction. This result implies that the lower natural frequency of chemisorbed deuterium reduces the rate at which the tip's kinetic energy is dissipated. This discovery is consistent with a model describing energy transfer to adsorbates from a moving surface.