Friction at atomic-scale surface steps: experiment and theory

Phys Rev Lett. 2008 Dec 12;101(24):246105. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.101.246105. Epub 2008 Dec 12.


Experiments performed by friction force microscopy at atomic-scale surface steps on graphite, MoS2, and NaCl in ambient conditions are presented. Both step-down and step-up scans exhibit higher frictional forces at the edge, but distinguish in their load dependence: While the additional frictional force due to the step edge increases linearly with load if the tip has to jump a step up, it remains constant for downward jumps. This phenomenon represents a universal effect that can be explained in terms of a modified Prandtl-Tomlinson model featuring a Schwoebel-Ehrlich barrier at steps.