The coefficient of friction (COF) of metals is usually high, primarily because frictional contacts induce plastic deformation underneath the wear surface, resulting in surface roughening and formation of delaminating tribolayers. Lowering the COF of metals is crucial for improving the reliability and efficiency of metal contacts in engineering applications but is technically challenging. Refining the metals’ grains to nanoscale cannot reduce dry-sliding COFs, although their hardness may be elevated many times. We report that a submillimeter-thick stable gradient nanograined surface layer enables a significant reduction in the COF of a Cu alloy under high-load dry sliding, from 0.64 (coarse-grained samples) to 0.29, which is smaller than the COFs of many ceramics. The unprecedented stable low COF stems from effective suppression of sliding-induced surface roughening and formation of delaminating tribolayer, owing to the stable gradient nanostructures that can accommodate large plastic strains under repeated sliding for more than 30,000 cycles.
Natural Sciences in General