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NanoBALLS: Dynamical interaction of nanoparticles

UKIERI Collaborative project: SA 07-053

Funding: The British Council, UK and DST, India


Key Subject Words: In situ TEM, Nanoparticles, Deformation Mechanisms

The NanoBALLS team in Sheffield, 2009

The interaction of surfaces of materials called ‘friction’ controls our every-day life – from holding a tea-cup to walking down the street. The interactions that occur when two pieces of material come together, touch and slide are very complicated. The important thing about friction (and the plastic deformation it can cause) is that energy is used up, indeed it is estimated that up to 70% of all energy is dissipated due to frictional processes. People have studied friction since time immemorial, optimising the design of materials in some instances so that they slide across each other without dissipating much energy (e.g. bearings) and in others deliberately increasing friction (such as brakes). In the modern world, materials are now being constructed out of smaller and smaller building blocks. Materials made out of components less than one millionth of a metre in size are termed ‘nanomaterials’, and it is exceptionally difficult to measure how these materials interact with each other and their environment due to their size. Such materials can only be imaged with electron and scanning probe microscopes, and usually only when not moving (so dynamical processes such as friction can’t be investigated). This project ‘NanoBALLS’ will enable the interaction of nanoparticles and surfaces to be quantified in real time at nanoscale resolution. We will do this by fabricating novel piezodevices which are specially miniaturised so that they can move nanoparticles around inside electron microscopes. The movement is achieved by varying the voltage on a number of piezocrystals, which then change their length by steps as small as 0.1nm=10-10m. Mechanical loading can be achieved in any desired direction and sequence such as normal loading (indentation), shear, or cyclic (fatigue). Cameras on the electron microscopes will be used to video the movement of the nanoparticles, and integrated force sensors will measure the local forces. It is anticipated that these novel nanomanipulation devices will enable fundamental studies of the interaction of nanoparticles and nanovolumes of material to be achieved, and unique data on the dynamical processes of friction and wear at the nanoscale to be obtained. The nanomechanical testing will be applied to the interaction of nanoparticles in industrially relevant systems, such as carbon nanotubes and silicon carbide particles used as boundary lubrication additives. The project partners aim to interact strongly with the UKIERI corporate champions on relevant nanoparticulate and nanostructured material systems.

Key members of UKIERI-NanoBalls Project

United Kingdom