We investigate the transition between different regimes of lubrication and directly observe the thickness of nanometric lubrication films with a sensitivity of a single molecular layer at a multi-asperity interface through fluorescence microscopy. We redefine specific film thickness as the ratio of the lubricant film thickness and the surface roughness measured only at those regions of the interface where the gap is “minimal.” This novel definition of specific film thickness successfully captures the transition from full elastohydrodynamic lubrication to mixed and boundary lubrication. The transition can be triggered by increasing the surface roughness and is accurately predicted by using the new film thickness definition. We find that when the liquid carries part of the load, its apparent viscosity is greatly increased by confinement, and show how the transition between different lubrication regimes is well described by the viscosity increase and subsequent glass transition in the film.

Sci. Adv.
Contact Dynamics

Petrova, D., Weber, B., Allain, C., Audebert, P., Venner, C., Brouwer, A., & Bonn, D. (2019). Fluorescence microscopy visualization of the roughness-induced transition between lubrication regimes. Sci. Adv., 5(12), eaaw4761: 1–9. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aaw4761