Mechanisms of Contact, Adhesion, and Failure of Metallic Nanoasperities in the Presence of Adsorbates : Toward Conductive Contact Design

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)490-500
Journal / PublicationACS Nano
Issue number1
Online published16 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


The properties of contacting interfaces are strongly affected not only by the bulk and surface properties of contacting materials but also by the ubiquitous presence of adsorbed contaminants. Here, we focus on the properties of single asperity contacts in the presence of adsorbates within a molecular dynamics description of metallic asperity normal contact and a parametric description of adsorbate properties. A platinum-platinum asperity contact is modeled with adsorbed oligomers with variable properties. This system is particularly tailored to the context of nanoelectromechanical system (NEMS) contact switches, but the results are generally relevant to metal-metal asperity contacts in nonpristine conditions. Even though mechanical forces can displace adsorbate out of the contact region, increasing the adsorbate layer thickness and/or adsorbate/metal adhesion makes it more difficult for metal asperity/metal surface contact to occur, thereby lowering the electrical contact conductance. Contact separation is a competition between plastic necking in the asperity or decohesion at the asperity/substrate interface. The mechanism which operates at a lower tensile stress dominates. Necking dominates when the adsorbate/metal adhesion is strong and/or the adsorbate layer thickness is small. In broad terms, necking implies larger asperity deformation and mechanical work, as compared with decohesion. Optimal NEMS switch performance requires substantial contact conductance and minimal asperity deformation; these results indicate that these goals can be achieved by balancing the quantity of adsorbates and their adhesion to the metal surface.

Research Area(s)

  • adhesion, adsorbates, conductance, molecular dynamics, NEMS switch, single asperity contact