Look, Ma, no friction


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Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory have concocted a new carbon material that virtually eliminates friction between surfaces. These new carbon “rollers” could slash maintenance costs for machinery and vastly extend the life of any mechanical device.

Researchers were experimenting with graphene — single-layer sheets of carbon atoms — sliding against a steel ball coated with a material called “diamond-like carbon” for its hardness. Under pressure, the carbon sheets would roll up like scrolls, but would collapse unpredictably under a load, especially in higher humidity. Using data from computer models, the group sprinkled the graphene sheets with bits of diamond. The carbon scrolls rolled up around the diamond bits, which enabled the scrolls to keep their shape. Result: The scrolls act like microscopic ball bearings, separating surfaces so they don’t rub against each other.

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