Lubricants are required wherever moving parts come together.
They prevent direct contact between solid elements and ensure that gears, bearings, and valves work as smoothly as possible. Depending on the application, the ideal lubricant must meet conflicting requirements. On the one hand, it should be as thin as possible because this reduces friction.
On the other hand, it should be viscous enough that the lubricant stays in the contact gap. In practice, grease and oils are often used because their viscosity increases with pressure.
Biological lubrication in contrast is much more efficient. In joints, a thin, watery solution prevents friction. The thin film stays where it should thanks to a trick of nature. A polymer layer is anchored to the cartilage at the end of bones. Polymers are a string of densely packed, long-chain molecules.
They protrude from the cartilage and form "polymer brushes" which attract the extremely fluid lubricant and keep it in place at the contact point.
Over the last 20 years, numerous attempts have been made to imitate the natural model technically. But with no resounding success. The tentacle-like polymers on surfaces opposite each other tend to get tangled up in each other.
They slow each other down and detach from the surfaces. In technical systems, individual polymers that become detached are difficult to replace as they do not possess the same self-healing mechanisms as in a natural organism.
Jülich physicist Prof. Martin Müser came up with the idea of using two different polymers at the contact point to prevent the polymers becoming entangled. "Using supercomputers, we simulated what would happen if we applied water-soluble polymers to one side and water-repellent polymers to the other side," says head of the NIC (John von Neumann Institute for Computing) group Computational Materials Physics at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC)."
This combination of water-based and oil-based liquids as a lubricant reduced the friction by two orders of magnitude – around a factor of 90 – compared to a system comprising just one type of polymer."
Measurements with an atomic force microscope at the University of Twente in the Netherlands verified the results. "The two different phases of the liquid separate because they repel each other. This simultaneously holds the polymers back and prevents them from protruding beyond the borders," says Dr. Sissi de Beer, who recently moved from Müser's group to the University of Twente.
The low-friction two-component lubricant is interesting for numerous applications. One example are simple piston systems, like syringes, which are used to precisely administer even tiny amounts of a drug.
Above all, the new process could provide low-friction solutions where high pressures and forces occur locally – for example, axle bearings and hinges. For the most common lubricant – engine oil – an alternative has yet to be found; conventional polymer brushes are unable to withstand the high temperatures.
Tobias Schlößer | Eurek Alert!
Family tree for orchids explains their astonishing variability
04.09.2015 | University of Wisconsin-Madison
Gone with the wind: A new project focusses on atmospheric input of phosphorus into the Baltic Sea
04.09.2015 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde
In a survey of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope images of 2,753 young, blue star clusters in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy (M31), astronomers have found that M31 and our own galaxy have a similar percentage of newborn stars based on mass.
By nailing down what percentage of stars have a particular mass within a cluster, or the Initial Mass Function (IMF), scientists can better interpret the light...
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE have developed a highly compact and efficient inverter for use in uninterruptible power...
China's Loess Plateau was formed by wind alternately depositing dust or removing dust over the last 2.6 million years, according to a new report from University of Arizona geoscientists. The study is the first to explain how the steep-fronted plateau formed.
China's Loess Plateau was formed by wind alternately depositing dust or removing dust over the last 2.6 million years, according to a new report from...
The leaves of the lotus flower, and other natural surfaces that repel water and dirt, have been the model for many types of engineered liquid-repelling surfaces. As slippery as these surfaces are, however, tiny water droplets still stick to them. Now, Penn State researchers have developed nano/micro-textured, highly slippery surfaces able to outperform these naturally inspired coatings, particularly when the water is a vapor or tiny droplets.
Enhancing the mobility of liquid droplets on rough surfaces could improve condensation heat transfer for power-plant heat exchangers, create more efficient...
Longer, more severe, and hotter droughts and a myriad of other threats, including diseases and more extensive and severe wildfires, are threatening to transform some of the world's temperate forests, a new study published in Science has found. Without informed management, some forests could convert to shrublands or grasslands within the coming decades.
"While we have been trying to manage for resilience of 20th century conditions, we realize now that we must prepare for transformations and attempt to ease...
03.09.2015 | Event News
20.08.2015 | Event News
20.08.2015 | Event News
04.09.2015 | Power and Electrical Engineering
04.09.2015 | Machine Engineering
04.09.2015 | Materials Sciences