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The goal of the UC Merced tribology research program is to fundamentally understand the processes that occur at surfaces and interfaces in relative motion.


All mechanical components rely in some way on the interfaces between solid surfaces. Depending on the intended function of the component, surfaces may need to stick together, or they may need to slide or roll relative to one another. But in all cases, the performance, efficiency, and useful life of mechanical components depends on the tribology.


Tribology includes three key topics: friction, wear, and lubrication. Friction is the resistance to relative motion, wear is the loss of material due to that motion, and lubrication is the use of a fluid (or in some cases a solid) to minimize friction and wear.


Tribology is particularly important in today's world because so much energy is lost due to friction and wear in mechanical components. Significant energy is lost due to friction in sliding interfaces. Therefore, to use less of our natural energy resources, we need to minimize the amount of energy that is wasted. Further waste occurs due to wear since the energy required to replace parts is substantial, and the economic, environmental, and safety costs of wear-induced failures can be extensive. Moreover, many of the challenges facing new energy-efficient technologies, such as wind turbines, are tribological in nature. Therefore, tribology is critically important to addressing some of the world's key issues related to energy efficiency and the economic and societal implications of energy usage.


Tribology is also a scientifically fascinating field because it is inherently interdisciplinary and multi-scale. Tribology incorporates solid mechanics, fluid mechanics, material science, and chemistry, and so requires an understanding of each of these areas, as well as where and how they overlap. Tribology is also multi-scale. For example, interfacing components elastically deform on a macroscopic scale; relative movement between them is resisted by the interlocking of micro-scale surface features; and, at a very fundamental level, friction is due to atomic and molecular interactions at the nanoscale.


At UC Merced, the tribology research team uses experimental tools and computational methods to understand the interrelationships between these phenomena. The research outcomes are enabling development of design tools with which friction and other interface behaviors can be controlled and then prescribed for a given application, ultimately enabling