Contact and friction of nanoasperities: effects of adsorbed monolayers.

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Molecular dynamics simulations are used to study contact between a rigid, nonadhesive, and spherical tip with radius of order 30 nm and a flat elastic substrate covered with a fluid monolayer of adsorbed chain molecules. Previous studies of bare surfaces showed that the atomic scale deviations from a sphere that are present on any tip constructed from discrete atoms lead to significant deviations from continuum theory and dramatic variability in friction forces. Introducing an adsorbed monolayer leads to larger deviations from continuum theory but decreases the variations between tips with different atomic structure. Although the film is fluid, it remains in the contact and behaves qualitatively like a thin elastic coating except for certain tips at high loads. Measures of the contact area based on the moments or outer limits of the pressure distribution and on counting contacting atoms are compared. The number of tip atoms making contact during a time interval Deltat grows as a power of Deltat when the film is present and as the logarithm of Deltat for bare surfaces. Friction is measured by displacing the tip at a constant velocity or pulling the tip with a spring. Both static and kinetic friction rise linearly with load at small loads. Transitions in the state of the film lead to nonlinear behavior at large loads. The friction is less clearly correlated with contact area than load.