Understanding Wear at the Atomic Level
Among the reasons solid state drives are replacing hard disk drives is the lack of moving components, which means there are no components to mechanically wear out. Of course, SSDs suffer a different kind of wear, as do many other technologies such as the nanotechnology of the future. Unlike some forms of wear HDDs and SSDs undergo, the wear nanotechnology suffers is not well understood, but researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have recently uncovered some of its secrets.
At the macroscale there are two main processes that dominate mechanical wear; plastic deformation and fracture deformation. Plastic deformation involves a material changing shape without breaking, and if the material breaks, that is a fracture deformation. At the nanoscale, where atoms press and rub against each other, researchers had theorized a different kind of deformation takes place, and now the University of Pennsylvania has caught it in action. By running a silicon-tipped atomic force microscope over a piece of diamond within an electron microscope, it has been confirmed that atoms will actually transfer from one material to another.
This process of atomic attrition is actually related to well-established science, which is useful for discovering the mathematics that governs the wearing process. Understanding the process better should enable more resilient nano-devices to be built in the future, which will increase both functionality and decrease cost.
Source: University of Pennsylvania