Atomic-Scale Wear of Amorphous Hydrogenated Carbon during Intermittent Contact: A Combined Study Using Experiment, Simulation, and Theory

V Vahdat and KE Ryan and PL Keating and YJ Jiang and SP Adiga and JD Schal and KT Turner and JA Harrison and RW Carpick, ACS NANO, 8, 7027-7040 (2014).

DOI: 10.1021/nn501896e

In this study, we explore the wear behavior of amplitude modulation atomic force microscopy (AM-AFM, an intermittent-contact AFM mode) tips coated with a common type of diamond-like carbon, amorphous hydrogenated carbon (a-C:H), when scanned against an ultra-nanocrystalline diamond (UNCD) sample both experimentally and through molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Finite element analysis is utilized in a unique way to create a representative geometry of the tip to be simulated in MD. To conduct consistent and quantitative experiments, we apply a protocol that involves determining the tip sample interaction geometry, calculating the tip sample force and normal contact stress over the course of the wear test, and precisely quantifying the wear volume using high-resolution transmission electron microscopy imaging. The results reveal gradual wear of a-C:H with no sign of fracture or plastic deformation. The wear rate of a-C:H is consistent with a reaction-rate- based wear theory, which predicts an exponential dependence of the rate of atom removal on the average normal contact stress. From this, kinetic parameters governing the wear process are estimated. MD simulations of an a-C:H tip, whose radius is comparable to the tip radii used in experiments, making contact with a UNCD sample multiple times exhibit an atomic-level removal process. The atomistic wear events observed in the simulations are correlated with under-coordinated atomic species at the contacting surfaces.

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