Friction of physisorbed nanotubes: Rolling or sliding?

Davide Mandelli, Roberto Guerra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The structure and motion of carbon and h-BN nanotubes (NTs) deposited on graphene is inquired theoretically by simulations based on state-of-the-art interatomic force fields. Results show that any typical cylinder-over-surface approximation is essentially inaccurate. NTs tend to flatten at the interface with the substrate and upon driving they can either roll or slide depending on their size and on their relative orientation with the substrate. In the epitaxially aligned orientation we find that rolling is always the main mechanism of motion, producing a kinetic friction linearly growing with the number of walls, in turn causing an unprecedented supra-linear scaling with the contact area. A 30 degrees misalignment raises superlubric effects, making sliding favorable against rolling. The resulting rolling-to-sliding transition in misaligned NTs is explained in terms of the faceting appearing in large multi-wall tubes, which is responsible for the increased rotational stiffness. Modifying the geometrical conditions provides an additional means of drastically tailoring the frictional properties in this unique tribological system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13046-13054
Number of pages9
Issue number24
StatePublished - 28 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


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