We provide experimental observations of the nucleation and growth of water capillary bridges in nanometer gaps between a laterally moving atomic force microscope probe and a smooth silicon wafer. We find rising nucleation rates with increasing lateral velocity and a smaller separation gap. The interplay between nucleation rate and lateral velocity is attributed to the entrainment of water molecules into the gap by the combination of lateral motion and collisions of the water molecules with the surfaces of the interface. The capillary volume of the full-grown water bridge increases with the distance between the two surfaces and can be limited by lateral shearing at high velocities. Our experimental results demonstrate a novel method to study in situ how water diffusion and transport impact dynamic interfaces at the nanoscale, ultimately leading to friction and adhesion forces at the macroscale.

AIP Publishing
J. Chem. Phys.
Contact Dynamics

Cassin, F., Hahury, R., Lançon, T., Franklin, S., & Weber, B. (2023). The nucleation, growth, and adhesion of water bridges in sliding nano-contacts. J. Chem. Phys., 158(22), 224703: 1–8. doi:10.1063/5.0150276