MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Fundamental Studies of Nanometer-Scale Wear Mechanisms

R. Bennewitz and J.T. Dickinson


Fundamental processes of wear include the rupture of single chemical bonds and the displacement of atoms or small clusters by mechanical action. Experimental studies of such processes have become feasible with the development of scanning probe microscopy. The small volume affected in these experiments overlaps with the size scale of large atomistic simulations, making a direct comparison possible. The complexity of real-world wear processes is reduced in most nanometer-scale experiments, for example, by probing surfaces of single crystals or by establishing and maintaining carefully controlled environments, including ultraclean conditions. The studies address the onset and topography of wear, the formation of debris structures, the interplay of mechanical and chemical action, the role of ultrathin films, the role of crystal defects in wear processes, and temporal and thermal effects.

Roland Bennewitz can be reached at INM—Leibniz Institute for New Materials, Campus D2 2, 66123 Saarbrücken, Germany; and e-mail

Bennewitz is head of the Nanotribology Group at the INM—Leibniz Institute for New Materials in Saarbrücken, Germany. He received his Habilitation degree from the University of Basel, Switzerland, in 2002. Bennewitz was an assistant professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, from 2004 until 2008, where he also held the Canada Research Chair in Experimental Nanomechanics. His main research focuses are the microscopic mechanisms of friction and wear and the mechanical properties of materials with a nanometer-scale structure.

J. Thomas Dickinson can be reached at Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-2814, USA; tel. 509-335-4914; and e-mail

Dickinson is the Paul A. Anderson Professor of Physics and Regents Professor at Washington State University (WSU). He also leads the Surface Dynamics Group at WSU. Dickinson received his bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University and his PhD degree in physics at the University of Michigan. He joined the faculty at WSU in 1968. Dickinson's work has focused on the interaction and consequences of mechanical, chemical, and radiative stimuli on primarily nonmetallic materials. His current research interests include nanometer scale tribochemistry and VUV/femtosecond laser-surface interactions. He is the author/co-author of more than 320 refereed publications and is a fellow of MRS, APS, AVS, and AAAS.