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Tribology and the Control of Friction

An advanced Greek element tribo- and Its Modern Applications

Back to part 1 of tribology

Now you know what nanotribology means, don’t you? If you want to know more about nanotribology, here are excerpts of other definitions; but be WARNED that if they are too confusing or of no interest to you, you may scroll down to the area where other tribo- words are presented. Don’t give up before you see the rest of the list.

Micro/nanotribology as a field is concerned with experimental and theoretical investigations of processes ranging from atomic and molecular scales to the microscale, occurring during adhesion, friction, wear, and thin-film lubrication at sliding surfaces.

This involves determination of the chemical, physical and mechanical properties of the surfaces undergoing relative motion at length scales of the order of nanometers. Interaction between rubbing surfaces occurs at asperities [roughness of surfaces] at which the local pressure and temperatures can be very high.

These conditions can lead to formation of tribochemical films with the unusual properties necessary for efficient wear protection. The nanomechanical properties of these films are being investigated by interfacial force microscopy (IFM) which is capable of determining the elastic constants and anelastic behavior of the films in boundary layer lubrication.

Proposed nanotribology experiments for the Triboscope include studying the effect of different contact areas, scan directions and crystallographic orientations on both lubricated and unlubricated surfaces.

Tribology is the study of friction, lubrication and wear. Nanotribology is roughly defined as the study of these same phenomena down to the nN and nanometer force and length scales.

I hope I haven’t lost you in the sea of obfuscation (confusion, obscurity, or bewilderment) because there are other interesting words to learn. Here are additional examples that are derived from tribo-:

  • triboelectric, an electrical charge produced by friction between two objects; such as, rubbing silk on a glass surface.


  • triboelectricity, in physics, electrical charges produced by friction between two surfaces; static electricity.

    Frictional electricity … was supposedly known to the ancient Greeks, particularly Thales of Miletus, who observed about 600 B.C. that when amber was rubbed, it would attract small bits of matter. The term “frictional electricity” gave way to “triboelectricity,” although since “tribo” means “to rub,” the newer term does little to change the concept.
    -A.D. Moore (as seen in The American Heritage Dictionary of Science by Robert K. Barnhart; Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston; 1986).

  • tribofluorescence, triboflurescent; to give off light as a result of friction.


  • tribologist, a specialist in the science of tribology.


  • tribology, tribological, the science of the mechanisms of friction, lubrication, and wear of interacting surfaces that are in relative motion.


  • triboluminescence, the quality of emitting light under friction or violent mechanical pressure.


  • triboluminescent, exhibiting triboluminescence.


  • tribophosphorescence, tribophosphorescent; to produce light by friction.


  • tribothermoluminescence, thermoluminescence [luminescence resulting from exposure to high temperature] produced in a material as a result of friction.


  • tribometer, an instrument for estimating sliding friction.


  • tribophysics, the physical properties or phenomena associated with friction.


  • tribophosphoroscope, an instrument for examining triboluminescence.


  • tribulation, originally from Greek; then through Latin, “to press; affliction”; distress, great trial, or affliction.

“The Roman tribulum was a sledge consisting of a wooden block studded with sharp pieces of flint or iron teeth. It was used to bring force and pressure against wheat in grinding out grain. The machine suggested the way trouble grinds people down and oppresses them, tribulations becoming another word for troubles and afflictions. The word is first recorded in English in 1330.”.

From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson; Facts On File, Inc., New York; 1997.

The Romans ground out their corn [make that grain-J.R.] with a heavy roller, mentioned in Vergil’s Georgics among agricultural instruments: the tribulum, diminutive noun, from tritere, trit —, to rub, from Greek tribein, to rub. Being ground under and pressed out made an excellent metaphor to express the trials and tribulations of the early Christians.

From a Dictionary of Word Origins by Joseph T. Shipley.