Atomistic Mechanisms and Dynamics of Adhesion, Nanoindentation, and Fracture

Science  27 Apr 1990:
Vol. 248, Issue 4954, pp. 454-461
DOI: 10.1126/science.248.4954.454


Molecular dynamics simulations and atomic force microscopy are used to investigate the atomistic mechanisms of adhesion, contact formation, nanoindentation, separation, and fracture that occur when a nickel tip interacts with a gold surface. The theoretically predicted and experimentally measured hysteresis in the force versus tip-to-sample distance relationship, found upon approach and subsequent separation of the tip from the sample, is related to inelastic deformation of the sample surface characterized by adhesion of gold atoms to the nickel tip and formation of a connective neck of atoms. At small tipsample distances, mechanical instability causes the tip and surface to jump-to-contact, which in turn leads to adhesion-induced wetting of the nickel tip by gold atoms. Subsequent indentation of the substrate results in the onset of plastic deformation of the gold surface. The atomic-scale mechanisms underlying the formation and elongation of a connective neck, which forms upon separation, consist of structural transformations involving elastic and yielding stages.