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Erik K. Drexlers superlubricating "big bearing" - This is a photo of a 3D printed model. See:

Up: Friction in gem-gum technology

Superlubricity (or superlubrication) is a state of extremely low friction that occurs when two atomically precise surfaces slide along each other in such a way that the "atomic bumps" do not mesh or more precisely when the lattices distances projected in the direction of movement are maximally incommensurate. It works at all (non destructive) temperatures includung 300K room temperature. Superlubricating bearings are generally wear free. Their dominating damage mechanism is ionizing radiation or thermal destruction.

The occurring friction is 2000 to 100000 times smaller than movement in water which is present e.g. in nanobiology. Note that diffusion transport by concentration gradients does not make biological systems more efficient. One expends the same free-energy cost as with any other way of driving motion. (see external links)

Examples exhibiting superlubrication:

  • two coplanar sheets of graphene rotated to one another to minimally mesh
  • two appropriately chosen tightly fitting coaxial nanotubes (experimantally demonstrated) (wiki-TODO: add reference)
  • diamondoid molecular bearings and other DMEs with sliding interfaces.
  • an advanced metamaterial forming an infinitesimal bearing structure.

If AP surfaces are designed or aligned to not mesh then the "perceived bumps" (the bumps that the surfaces perceive as a whole) become lower and their spacial frequency becomes higher (more bumps per length). If the surface pressure isn't extremely high the characteristic thermal energy kBT can become a lot higher than the bumps energy barriers. Thus the friction becomes so low that e.g. an unconstrained DMME bearing can be activated thermally and may starts turning randomly in a Brownian fashion [to verify].

Oxygen or sulfur with their two bonds in a plane parallel to the relative sliding direction are a good choice for surface termination of bearing interfaces since this configuration gives maximal stiffness in sliding direction.

If the two bonds of the atoms are instead in a plane normal to the sliding direction the lower stiffness may lead to higher energy dissipation (friction). Singly bonded hydrogen fluorine or chlorine passivations have even lower stiffness, see: E. Drexlers's blog: snap back dissipation. This can be deliberately used in dissipative elements (friction brakes). There's a critical point at which snapping back starts to occur [todo: simulation results needed].

Note that superlubrication is akin to superconuctivity only in name:

  • Superlubrication is reached by decrease of degree of intermeshment while superconductivity is reached by decrease of temperature.
  • There is not a sharp cutoff in friction when decreasing the dergree of intermeshment like the cutoff in superconductivity when decreasing temperature.

Main power dissipation mechanisms

(TODO: Integrate infos from Nanosystems and the "evaluating friction ..." paper.)

Main article: Friction mechanisms

Superlubricating crystolecule machine elements

Atomically precise gemstone bearings

Interestingly Van der Waals forces allow for stable designs in which the axle in DM bearings is pulled outward in all directions instead of compressed inward allowing even lower friction. At high operation speeds resonant vibrations might occur though.

Atomically precise gemstone gears

Gears with straight, while reducing atomic bumps due to roughly shape complementary, do not smooth out atomic bumps beyond that.
Helical gears in contrast can and do smooth out atomic bumps. Up to some point the longer the contact between gear teeth the better the smoothing. This is a motivation to not make gears at the absolute minimal size possible but a bit above that.

As a side-note: Another reason for making gears a bit above the absolute minimal size is that stiffness of the intermeshing gear teeth interface can be matched to the stiffness of the axles (preventing flex wave reflections in higher frequency operations).

Rods in sleeves


  • Using the same material for rod and sleeve can lead to pretty much the same spacing and no good superlubrication.
  • Getting a fit of just the right tightness with a compact sleeve around a thin reciprocative rod may be more difficult than getting just the right fit with a big stator sleeve around a big diameter rotor. Bigger loops can be finer adjusted in a relative sense.

Snapping into place

As mentioned before there is always a slight remaining ripple in the position dependant potential energy of the bearing (in its potential energy surface - PES). This energy corresponds to the (very low) temperature under which the bearing starts to snap into place. (If quantum zero point energy isn't too high?)

Quantum effects in (rotative) gemstone nanomachinery

Quantisation of angular momentum is usually not present except for very small free rotating elements at very low temperatures. Axels in nanomechanical systems are usually coupled to a bigger system making their moment of inertia rather big. Free rotations will often be suppressed which leaves only torsional vibrations as possible degree of freedom.



External links

Related pages on E. Drexlers homepage: