Wear at sliding interfaces of silicon is a main cause for material loss in nanomanufacturing and device failure in microelectromechanical system (MEMS) applications. However, a comprehensive understanding of the nanoscale wear mechanisms of silicon in ambient conditions is still lacking. Here, we report the chemical wear of single crystalline silicon, a material used for micro/nanoscale devices, in humid air under the contact pressure lower than the material hardness. A transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analysis of the wear track confirmed that the wear of silicon in humid conditions originates from surface reactions without significant subsurface damages such as plastic deformation or fracture. When rubbed with a SiO2 ball, the single crystalline silicon surface exhibited transitions from severe wear in intermediate humidity to nearly wearless states at two opposite extremes: (a) low humidity and high sliding speed conditions and (b) high humidity and low speed conditions. These transitions suggested that at the sliding interfaces of Si/SiO2 at least two different tribochemical reactions play important roles. One would be the formation of a strong "hydrogen bonding bridge" between hydroxyl groups of two sliding interfaces and the other the removal of hydroxyl groups from the SiO2 surface. The experimental data indicated that the dominance of each reaction varies with the ambient humidity and sliding speed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Materials Science(all)
- Condensed Matter Physics
- Surfaces and Interfaces