The coupled effects of environmental composition, temperature and contact size-scale on the tribology of molybdenum disulfide

Khare, Harmandeep S.
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University of Delaware
Liquid lubricants are precluded in an exceedingly large number of consumer as well as extreme applications as a means to reduce friction and wear at the sliding interface of two bodies. The extraterrestrial environment is one such example of an extreme environment which has motivated the development of advanced solid lubricant materials. Mechanical systems for space require fabrication, assembly, transportation and testing on earth before launch and deployment. Solid lubricants for space are expected to not only operate efficiently in the hard vacuum of space but also withstand interactions with moisture or oxygen during the terrestrial storage, transportation and assembly prior to deployment and launch. Molybdenum disulfide (MoS 2 ) is considered the gold standard in solid lubricants for space due to its excellent tribological properties in ultra-high vacuum. However in the presence of environmental species such as water and oxygen or at elevated temperatures, the lubricity and endurance of MoS 2 is severely limited. Past studies have offered several hypotheses for the breakdown of lubrication of MoS2 under the influence of water and oxygen, although exact mechanisms remain unknown. Furthermore, it is unclear if temperature acts as a driver solely for oxidation or for thermally activated slip and thermally activated desorption as well. The answers to these questions are of fundamental importance to improving the reliability of existing MoS 2 -based solid lubricants for space, as well as for guiding the design of advanced lamellar solid lubricant coatings. This dissertation aims to elucidate: (1) the role of water on MoS2 oxidation, (2) the role of water on MoS2 friction, (3) the role of oxygen on MoS2 friction, (4) the contribution of thermal activation to ambient-temperature friction, and (5) effects of length-scale. The results of this study showed that water does not cause oxidation of MoS2 . Water increases ambient-temperature friction of MoS2 directly through a combination of both surface adsorption and diffusion into the coating subsurface. Thermally activated desiccation effectively dries the bulk of the coating, yielding low values of friction coefficient even at ambient humidity and temperature. Friction of MoS 2 decreases with increasing temperature between 25°C and 100°C in the presence of environmental water and increases in the presence of oxygen alone. At temperatures greater than 100°C, friction generally increases with temperature only in the presence of environmental oxygen; at these elevated temperatures, friction decreases with increasing humidity. The transition from room-temperature increase to elevated-temperature decrease in friction with increasing humidity is found to be a strong function of the contact history as well as coating microstructure. Lastly, the contribution of nanoscale tribofilms to macroscale friction was studied through nanotribometry. Friction measured on the worn MoS 2 coating with a nano-scale AFM probe showed direct and quantifiable evidence of sliding-induced surface modification of MoS2 ; friction measured on the perfectly ordered single crystal MoS2 was nearly an order of magnitude lower than friction on worn MoS2 . Although friction coefficients measured with a nanoscale probe showed high surface sensitivity, micron-sized AFM probes gave friction coefficients similar to those obtained in the macroscale, suggesting the formation of surface films in-situ during sliding with the colloidal probe. A reduction in friction is observed after annealing for both the nanoscale and microscale probes, suggesting a strong overriding effect of the desiccated bulk over surface adsorption in driving the friction response at these length-scales.