Atomistic mechanisms for frictional energy dissipation during continuous sliding
After more than a century of detailed investigations into sliding friction, we have not arrived yet at a basic understanding of energy dissipation, even for the simple geometry of a rigid slider moving over a perfectly periodic counter surface. In this article, we use a first-principles-based analysis to establish the atomistic mechanisms of frictional energy dissipation for a rigid object that moves continuously in the periodic surface potential landscape of a solid with vibrational degrees of freedom. We identify two mechanisms that can be viewed as (i) the continuous pumping of energy into the resonant modes, if these exist, and (ii) the destructive interference of the force contributions introduced by all excited phonon modes. These mechanisms act already in a purely dynamic system that includes independent, non-interacting phonon modes, and they manifest irreversibility as a kind of “dynamical stochastization”. In contrast to wide-spread views, we show that the transformation of mechanical energy into heat, that always takes place in real systems due to the coupling between phonon modes, can play only a minor role in the appearance of friction, if any. This insight into the microscopic mechanisms of energy dissipation opens a new, direct way towards true control over friction.