Research Overview

What is Tribology?

tribology- (n) a study that deals with the design, friction, wear, and lubrication of interacting surfaces in relative motion (as in bearings or gears)

“tribology.” 2018. (18 December 2018).

Tribology Research Motivation

US energy consumption by energy source, sector, and overall efficiency [1]

Surface interactions are present in nearly every mechanical, biological, and electrical system from large scales (aircraft engines, locomotives, automobiles, pumps, and orthopedic joints) to small scales (MEMS/NEMS, cells, and electronics). These interactions are often sources of failure or inefficiency, causing increased energy consumption (high friction) and unnecessary material waste (excessive wear). A report released by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in February 2017 evaluated the energy consumption of the United States and potential energy savings that could be applied through the application and targeted research efforts in tribology (the study of friction and wear). The report states the US currently consumes about 97.2 Quads (~28.5 trillion kWh) per year, and postulates that application and advancement of tribological materials could reduce US energy demand by nearly 11%!

One of the largest areas of energy consumption is the transportation sector, which accounts for more than a quarter of all energy consumption in the US1. In passenger cars for example, 16 % of all fuel energy is consumed by frictional losses in the engine and transmission2. By investigating new materials (composites, coatings, semiconductors) for tribological applications, significant improvement in system performance, energy demand and reliability can be achieved.

(1)       Carpick, R.; Jackson, A.; Lee, P.; Argibay, N.; Pachon Garcia, A.; Sawyer, W. G.; Bennet, K. Tribology Opportunities for Enhancing America’s Energy Efficiency; 2017.
(2)       Holmberg, K.; Andersson, P.; Erdemir, A. Global Energy Consumption due to Friction in Passenger Cars. Tribol. Int. 2012, 47 (March), 221–234.

Research Goals and Philosophy


  • Characterize the effects of microstructure, crystallinity, and orientation on wear and friction of coatings and bulk materials.
  • Utilize bulk and surface structural, chemical and morphological analysis techniques (including microscopy and spectroscopy) to determine chemical, mechanical, and physical changes that affect material performance of tribological systems.
  • Develop new measurement methods and test protocols, emphasizing in-situ analysis, to gain additional insight on chemical reactions and physical processes that occur during sliding.
  • Design better components/additives to promote favorable surface films that protect surfaces from abrasion and wear.
  • Pioneer the use of hierarchical material systems that promote ideal surface and bulk properties.
  • Advance predictive modeling methods that account for the many complexities (contact pressure, evolving topography, surface temperature, etc.) at interfacial contacts.

The Miami University Materials Tribology Lab is founded in the ability to design and perform precise, well controlled experiments to evaluate tribological properties of materials. To run these experiments properly, students will design and assemble instruments that can be used to test a wide range of material systems (gels, polymers, metals, and ceramics) at a variety of length scales, environments, and temperatures. This experience teaches students fundamentals of data acquisition, control, instrumentation, machine design, and manufacturing. These instruments will research fundamental and applied aspects of friction, wear, and adhesion of materials.