Nanofriction Visualized in Space and Time by 4D Electron Microscopy

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

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


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: smoothsliding 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)
Title of host publication4d Visualization of Matter
Subtitle of host publicationRecent Collected Works of Ahmed H Zewail, Nobel Laureate
PublisherWorld Scientific Publishing Co.
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9781783265060
ISBN (Print)9781783265046
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2010 American Chemical Society.


  • Adhesion
  • Friction
  • MEMS
  • NEMS
  • Slip-stick
  • Ultrafast electron microscopy


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