Periodic buckling and grain boundary slips in a colloidal model of solid friction

E Janai and AV Butenko and AB Schofield and E Sloutskin, SOFT MATTER, 15, 5227-5233 (2019).

DOI: 10.1039/c9sm00654k

The intermittent 'stick-slip' dynamics in frictional sliding of solid bodies is common in everyday life and technology. This dynamics has been widely studied on a macroscopic scale, where the thermal motion can usually be neglected. However, the microscopic mechanisms behind the periodic stick-slip events are yet unclear. We employ confocal microscopy of colloidal spheres, to study the frictional dynamics at the boundary between two quasi-two-dimensional (2D) crystalline grains, with a single particle resolution. Such unprecedentedly-detailed observations of the microscopic-scale frictional solid-on-solid sliding have never been previously carried out. At this scale, the particles undergo an intense thermal motion, which masks the avalanche-like nature of the underlying frictional dynamics. We demonstrate that the underlying sliding dynamics involving out-of-plane buckling events, is intermittent and periodic, like in macroscopic friction. However, unlike in the common models of friction, the observed periodic frictional dynamics is promoted, rather than just suppressed, by the thermal noise, which maximizes the entropy of the system.

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