Research Promises Better Lube for Nano Machines

Physicists figure out how graphene fights "stiction" — the friction that afflicts MEMS and NEMS

3 min read

14 April 2010—The moving parts of micromechanical machines tend to seize up under the forces of sticking and friction that engineers call stiction. The problem yields to solid lubricants, notably graphite (sheets of carbon atoms called graphene stacked in layers), although for a long time no one understood exactly why this happens.

Now nanotechnology researchers, led by Professor Robert Carpick at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor James Hone at Columbia University, in New York City, have shown that how effective the lubrication is depends on the number of layers of graphene in the graphite. In particular, more layers means better lubrication. Because the same relationship between layers and lubrication occurs in thin sheets of molybdenum disulfide, niobium diselenide, and boron nitride—materials of widely differing properties—the workers conclude that this behavior is a fundamental aspect of friction. They expect that the discovery will lead to better lubrication of tiny moving parts. The researchers published details of their experiments in a recent issue of Science.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

The Ultimate Transistor Timeline

The transistor’s amazing evolution from point contacts to quantum tunnels

1 min read
A chart showing the timeline of when a transistor was invented and when it was commercialized.

Even as the initial sales receipts for the first transistors to hit the market were being tallied up in 1948, the next generation of transistors had already been invented (see “The First Transistor and How it Worked.”) Since then, engineers have reinvented the transistor over and over again, raiding condensed-matter physics for anything that might offer even the possibility of turning a small signal into a larger one.

Keep Reading ↓Show less