Asperity level characterization of abrasive wear using atomic force microscopy

Jack Walker*, Jamal Umer, Mahdi Mohammad-Pour, Stephanos Theodossiades, Stephen R. Bewsher, Günter Offner, Hemant Bansal, Michael Leighton, Michael Braunstingl, Heinz-Georg Flesch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using an atomic force microscope, a nanoscale wear characterization method has been applied to a commercial steel substrate AISI 52100, a common bearing material. Two wear mechanisms were observed by the presented method: atom attrition and elastoplastic ploughing. It is shown that not only friction can be used to classify the difference between these two mechanisms, but also the ‘degree of wear’. Archard's Law of adhesion shows good conformity to experimental data at the nanoscale for the elastoplastic ploughing mechanism. However, there is a distinct discontinuity between the two identified mechanisms of wear and their relation to the load and the removed volume. The length-scale effect of the material's hardness property plays an integral role in the relationship between the ‘degree of wear’ and load. The transition between wear mechanisms is hardness-dependent, as below a load threshold limited plastic deformation in the form of pile up is exhibited. It is revealed that the presented method can be used as a rapid wear characterization technique, but additional work is necessary to project individual asperity interaction observations to macroscale contacts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20210103
Number of pages17
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A
Issue number2250
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • abrasive
  • atomic force microscope
  • friction
  • nanoscale
  • wear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Mathematics(all)


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