Nanofriction visualized in space and time by 4D electron microscopy

David J. Flannigan, Sang Tae Park, Ahmed H. Zewail

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


In this letter, we report a novel method of visualizing nanoscale friction in space and time using ultrafast electron microscopy (UEM). The methodology is demonstrated for a nanoscale movement of a single crystal beam on a thin amorphous membrane of silicon nitride. The movement results from the elongation of the crystal beam, which is initiated by a laser (clocking) pulse, and we examined two types of beams: those that are free of friction and the others which are fixed on the substrate. From observations of image change with time we are able to decipher the nature of microscopic friction at the solid-solid interface: smooth-sliding and periodic slip-stick friction. At the molecular and nanoscale level, and when a force parallel to the surface (expansion of the beam) is applied, the force of gravity as a (perpendicular) load cannot explain the observed friction. An additional effective load being 6 orders of magnitude larger than that due to gravity is attributed to Coulombic/van der Waals adhesion at the interface. For the case under study, metal-organic crystals, the gravitational force is on the order of piconewtons whereas the static friction force is 0.5 μN and dynamic friction is 0.4 μN; typical beam expansions are 50 nm/nJ for the free beam and 10 nm/nJ for the fixed beam. The method reported here should have applications for other materials, and for elucidating the origin of periodic and chaotic friction and their relevance to the efficacy of nano(micro)-scale devices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4767-4773
Number of pages7
JournalNano Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 10 2010


  • adhesion
  • Friction
  • MEMS
  • NEMS
  • slip-stick
  • ultrafast electron microscopy


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