Kinks and nanofriction: Structural phases in few-atom chains
The frictional dynamics of interacting surfaces under forced translation are critically dependent on lattice commensurability. The highly nonlinear system of an elastic atomic chain sliding on an incommensurate periodic potential exhibits topological defects, known as kinks, that govern the frictional and translational dynamics. Performing experiments in a trapped-ion friction emulator, we observe two distinct structural and frictional phases: a commensurate high-friction phase where the ions stick-slip simultaneously over the lattice, and an incommensurate low-friction phase where the propagation of a kink breaks that simultaneity. We experimentally track the kink's propagation with atom-by-atom and sublattice site resolution and show that its velocity increases with commensurability. Our results elucidate the commensurate-incommensurate transition and the connection between the appearance of kinks and the reduction of friction in a finite system, with important consequences for controlling friction at nanocontacts.
Physical Review Research
- Pub Date:
- March 2020
- Condensed Matter - Mesoscale and Nanoscale Physics;
- Physics - Atomic Physics
- Phys. Rev. Research 2, 013380 (2020)