Tribology is the study of science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion. It includes the study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear. Tribology is a branch of mechanical engineering and materials science.


The word tribology derives from the Greek root τριβ- of the verb τρίβω, tribo, "I rub" in classic Greek; and the suffix -logy from -λογία, -logia "study of", "knowledge of".

It was coined by the British physicist David Tabor,[1] and also by Peter Jost in 1964, a lubrication expert who noticed the problems with increasing friction on machines, and started the new discipline of tribology.[2]


The tribological interactions of a solid surface's exposed face with interfacing materials and environment may result in loss of material from the surface. The process leading to loss of material is known as "wear". Major types of wear include abrasion, friction (adhesion and cohesion), erosion, and corrosion. Wear can be minimized by modifying the surface properties of the solids by one or more "surface engineering" processes (also called surface finishing) or by use of lubricants (for frictional or adhesive wear).

Estimated direct and consequential annual loss to industries in the USA due to wear is approximately 1-2% of GDP. (Heinz, 1987). Engineered surfaces extend the working life of both original and recycled and resurfaced equipment, thus saving large sums of money and leading to conservation of material, energy and the environment. Methodologies to minimize wear include systematic approaches to diagnose the wear and to prescribe appropriate solutions. Important methods include:

In recent years, micro- and nanotribology have been gaining ground. Frictional interactions in microscopically small components are becoming increasingly important for the development of new products in electronics, life sciences, chemistry, sensors and by extension for all modern technology.

Friction regimes

A typical Stribeck curve obtained by Martens
Stribeck curve (Abscissa: Speed, Ordinate: Friction)
1. Solid/boundary friction
2. Mixed friction
3. Fluid friction

Friction regimes for sliding lubricated surfaces have been broadly categorized into:

1. Solid/boundary friction
2. Mixed friction
3. Fluid friction

on the basis of the “Stribeck curve”. These curves clearly show the minimum value of friction as the demarcation between full fluid-film lubrication and some solid asperity interactions.

Stribeck and others systematically studied the variation of friction between two liquid lubricated surfaces as a function of a dimensionless lubrication parameter ηN/P, where η is the dynamic viscosity (Ns/m2), N the sliding speed (m/s) and P the load projected on to the geometrical surface (usually load per unit length of bearing in N/m).[3]

The “Stribeck-curve” has been a classic teaching element in tribology classes.[4]


Tribological experiments suggested by Leonardo da Vinci

Duncan Dowson surveyed the history of tribology in his book History of Tribology (2nd edition).[5] This comprehensive book covers developments from prehistory, through early civilizations (Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt) and finally the key developments up to the end of the twentieth century.

Historically, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was the first to enunciate two laws of friction[6] (it was this connection that gave the name to the Leonardo Centre for Tribology, one of the UK's leading research centres on the subject). According to da Vinci, the frictional resistance was the same for two different objects of the same weight but making contacts over different widths and lengths. He also observed that the force needed to overcome friction doubles when the weight doubles. da Vinci's findings remained unpublished in his notebooks.[7][8] Da Vinci identified the laws of friction in a notebook in 1493 and continued his studies of friction for 20 years.[9][10][11]

Guillaume Amontons rediscovered the classic rules (1699), but unlike da Vinci, made his findings public at the Academie Royale des Sciences for verification.[12] They were further developed by Charles-Augustin de Coulomb (1785).

Charles Hatchett (1760–1820) carried out the first reliable test on frictional wear using a simple reciprocating machine to evaluate wear on gold coins. He found that compared to self-mated coins, coins with grits between them wore at a faster rate.

Michael J Neale (1926 - 2012) was a leader the field of Tribology in the mid to late 1900's - For nearly 40 years he specialised in solving problems in machinery design by applying his knowledge of Tribology. Neale was respected as an educator with a gift for integrating theoretical work with his own practical experience to produce easy-to-understand design guides. The Tribology Handbook, which he first edited in 1973 and updated in 1995, is used around the world and forms the basis of numerous training courses for engineering designers.

Stribeck curve

The "Stribeck curve" or "Stribeck–Hersey curve" (named after Richard Stribeck,[13][14][15] who heavily documented and established examples of it, and Mayo D. Hersey[16][17]), which is used to categorize the friction properties between two surfaces, was developed in the first half of the 20th century. The research of Professor Richard Stribeck (1861–1950) was performed in Berlin at the Royal Prussian Technical Testing Institute (MPA, now BAM). Similar work was previously performed around 1885 by Prof. Adolf Martens (1850–1914) at the same Institute and in the mid-1870s by Dr. Robert H. Thurston [18][19] at the Stevens Institute of Technology in the U.S. Prof. Dr. Thurston was therefore close to establishing the “Stribeck curve”, but he presented no “Stribeck”-like graphs, as he evidently did not fully believe in the relevance of this dependency. Since that time the “Stribeck-curve” has been a classic teaching element in tribology classes.[4]

The graphs of friction force reported by Stribeck stem from a carefully conducted, wide-ranging series of experiments on journal bearings. Stribeck systematically studied the variation of friction between two liquid lubricated surfaces.[3] His results were presented on 5 December 1901 during a public session of the railway society and published on 6 September 1902. They clearly showed the minimum value of friction as the demarcation between full fluid-film lubrication and some solid asperity interactions. Stribeck studied different bearing materials and aspect ratios D/L from 1:1 to 1:2. The maximum sliding speed was 4 m/s and the geometrical contact pressure was limited to 5 MPa. (These operating conditions were related to railway wagon journal bearings.)

The reason why the form of the friction curve for liquid lubricated surfaces was later attributed to Stribeck, although both Thurston and Martens achieved their results considerably earlier, (Martens even in the same organization roughly 15 years before), may be because Stribeck published in the most important technical journal in Germany at that time, Zeitschrift des Vereins Deutscher Ingenieure (VDI, Journal of German Mechanical Engineers). Martens published his results “only” in the official journal of the Royal Prussian Technical Testing Institute, which has now become BAM. The VDI journal, as one of the most important journals for engineers, provided wide access to these data and later colleagues rationalized the results into the three classical friction regimes. Thurston however, did not have the experimental means to record a continuous graph of the coefficient of friction but only measured the friction at discrete points; this may be the reason why the minimum in the coefficient of friction was not discovered by him. Instead, Thurston's data did not indicate such a pronounced minimum of friction for a liquid lubricated journal bearing as was demonstrated by the graphs of Martens and Stribeck.

Jost Report

The term tribology became widely used following The Jost Report in 1966. The report said that friction, wear and corrosion were costing the UK huge sums of money every year. As a result, the UK set up several national centres for tribology. Since then the term has diffused into the international engineering field, with many specialists now identifying as tribologists.

There are now numerous national and international societies, such as the Society for Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) in the USA, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers' Tribology Group (IMechE Tribology Group) in the UK or the German Society for Tribology (Gesellschaft für Tribologie, and MYTRIBOS[20] (Malaysian Tribology society).

Most technical universities have researchers working on tribology, often as part of mechanical engineering departments. The limitations in tribological interactions are, however, no longer mainly determined by mechanical designs, but by material limitations. So the discipline of tribology now counts at least as many materials engineers, physicists and chemists as it does mechanical engineers.

New areas of tribology

Since the 1990s, new areas of tribology have emerged, including the nanotribology, biotribology, and green tribology. These interdisciplinary areas study the friction, wear and lubrication at the nanoscale (including the Atomic force microscopy and micro/nanoelectromechanical systems, MEMS/NEMS), in biomedical applications (e.g., human joint prosthetics, dental materials), and ecological aspects of friction, lubrication and wear (tribology of clean energy sources, green lubricants, biomimetic tribology).

Recently, intensive studies of superlubricity (phenomenon of vanishing friction) have sparked due to high demand in energy savings. Development of new materials, such as graphene, initiated development of fundamentally new approaches in the lubrication field.


The study of tribology is commonly applied in bearing design but extends into almost all other aspects of modern technology, even to such unlikely areas as hair conditioners and cosmetics such as lipstick, powders and lip-gloss.

Any product where one material slides or rubs over another is affected by complex tribological interactions, whether lubricated like hip implants and other artificial prostheses, or unlubricated as in high temperature sliding wear in which conventional lubricants cannot be used but in which the formation of compacted oxide layer glazes have been observed to protect against wear.

Tribology plays an important role in manufacturing. In metal-forming operations, friction increases tool wear and the power required to work a piece. This results in increased costs due to more frequent tool replacement, loss of tolerance as tool dimensions shift, and greater forces required to shape a piece. The use of lubricants which minimize direct surface contact reduces tool wear and power requirements.

See also


  1. Field, J. (2008). "David Tabor. 23 October 1913 -- 26 November 2005". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 54: 425–459. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2007.0031.
  2. Mitchell, Luke (November 2012). Ward, Jacob, ed. "The Fiction of Nonfriction". Popular Science. No. 5. 281 (November 2012): 40.
  3. 1 2 R. Stribeck, Die wesentlichen Eigenschaften der Gleit- und Rollenlager (The basic properties of sliding and rolling bearings), Zeitschrift des Vereins Deutscher Ingenieure, 2002, Nr. 36, Band 46, p. 1341-1348, p. 1432-1438 and 1463-1470
  4. 1 2 H. Czichos, K.-H. Habig, Tribologie-Handbuch (Tribology handbook), Vieweg Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2nd edition, 2003, ISBN 3-528-16354-2
  5. Duncan Dowson, History of Tribology, Second Edition, Professional Engineering Publishing, 1997, ISBN 1-86058-070-X
  6. Palaci, Ismaël (2007), Atomic Force Microscopy Studies of Nanotribology and Nanomechanics. p. 52.
  7. Armstrong-Hélouvry, Brian (1991). Control of machines with friction. USA: Springer. p. 10. ISBN 0-7923-9133-0.
  8. van Beek, Anton. "History of Science Friction". Retrieved 2011-03-24.
  9. "Leonardo da Vinci's studies of friction" (PDF).
  10. Hutchings, Ian M. (2016-08-15). "Leonardo da Vinci׳s studies of friction". Wear. 360–361: 51–66. doi:10.1016/j.wear.2016.04.019.
  11. "Study reveals Leonardo da Vinci's 'irrelevant' scribbles mark the spot where he first recorded the laws of friction". Retrieved 2016-07-26.
  12. Singer, Irwin (December 1999). "Amontons' Rules of Friction Formulated 300 Years Ago.". MRS Bulletin.
  13. Stribeck, R. (1901), Kugellager für beliebige Belastungen (Ball Bearings for any Stress), Zeitschrift des Vereins Deutscher Ingenieure 45.
  14. Stribeck, R. (1902), Die wesentlichen Eigenschaften der Gleit- und Rollenlager (Characteristics of Plain and Roller Bearings), Zeit. des VDI 46.
  15. Jacobson, Bo (2003), The Stribeck memorial lecture.
  16. Hersey, M. D. (1914), The Laws of Lubrication of Horizontal Journal Bearings, J. Wash. Acad. Sci., 4, 542-552.
  17. Biography of Mayo D. Hersey
  18. Robert H. Thurston, Friction and lubrication - Determination of the laws and co-ëfficients of friction by new methods and with new apparatus, Trübner and Co., Ludgate Hill, London, 1879
  19. Robert H. Thurston, A treatise on friction and lost work in machinery and millwork, John Wiley&Sons, New York, 1894, fifth edition


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