THE RENAISSANCE OF FRICTION: FROM EMPIRISM TO PHYSICS – AT THE NANOSCALE

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Erio Tosatti *
(*) Autore principale:
Erio Tosatti | tosatti@sissa.it

Abstract

Friction and its science hold more than a record. One is longevity: from its very origins, mankind has had to reckon with it. Still today, reducing (or increasing) sliding friction remain technological and practical objectives of enormous importance — one can read for example that no less than 5% of all energy produced daily degrades into wasted frictional work. Another record is that despite the involvement of great scientist like Leonardo, who already five centuries ago gave friction its first scientific bases, there is still today no proper theoretical formulation of friction. Theorists like us mostly limit themselves to what P.W.Anderson jokingly defined in a different context “the indignity of numerical simulations”. However, progress in science does not take place because it is necessary, but because it is possible. In the last decades, new mesoscopic and nanoscopic experimental techniques opened new windows on frictional phenomena at the atomic and molecular level. Jump-started by the necessity and by the challenge to understand some of that data, theory and simulation progress is moving on along some lines which I will briefly describe.

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