Biological tribosystems enable diverse functions of the human body by maintaining extremely low coefficients of friction via hydrogel-like surface layers and a water-based lubricant. Although stiction has been proposed as a precursor to damage, there is still a lack of knowledge about its origin and its relation to the hydrogel's microstructure, which impairs the design of soft matter as replacement biomaterials. In this work, the static friction of poly(acrylamide) hydrogels with modulated composition was investigated by colloidal probe lateral force microscopy as a function of load, temperature, and loading time. Temperature-dependent studies enable to build a phase diagram for hydrogel's static friction, which explains stiction via (polymer) viscoelastic and poroelastic relaxation, and a subtle transition from solid- to liquid-like interfacial behavior. At room temperature, the static friction increases with loading time, a phenomenon called contact aging, which stems from the adhesion of the polymer to the colloid and from the drainage-induced increase in contact area. Contact aging is shown to gradually vanish with increase in temperature, but this behavior strongly depends on the hydrogel's composition. This work scrutinizes the relation between the microstructure of hydrogel-like soft matter and interfacial behavior, with implications for diverse areas of inquiry, not only in biolubrication and biomedical applications but also in soft robotics and microelectromechanical devices, where the processes occurring at the migrating hydrogel interface are of relevance. The results support that modulating both the hydrogel's mesh size and the structure of the near-surface region is a means to control static friction and adhesion. This conceptual framework for static friction will foster further understanding of the wear of hydrogel-like materials.
- colloidal probe atomic force microscopy
- contact aging
- static friction
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Materials Science(all)