Water is generally not an efficient lubricant for most tribosystems due to its extremely low pressure-coefficient of viscosity. This barrier is less important, however, when elastomers are employed as tribopairs, since a low-pressure, conformal contact is readily achieved under these conditions, and thus the isoviscous-elastic lubrication (or soft elastohydrodynamic lubrication, “soft EHL”) mechanism can be activated. Isoviscous-elastic lubrication does not necessitate the increase of viscosity under pressure. The aqueous lubrication of elastomers, however, requires a careful control of surface properties of tribopairs since hydrophobic interactions between the sliding surfaces in water can result in the failure of lubricating films to form at low sliding speeds. In this context, we have investigated the influence of surface modification of an elastomer, poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS), on its aqueous lubrication properties. A dramatic reduction in frictional forces has been observed upon hydrophilization by oxygen-plasma treatment when PDMS was slid against PDMS in an aqueous environment. A similar effect was also observed when the PDMS surface was coated with a variety of copolymers that possess amphiphilic characteristics. This effect is attributed to the removal of the strong hydrophobic interaction between PDMS surfaces in water, thereby enabling the soft EHL mechanism to predominate. This study demonstrates the significance of surface modification in allowing effective soft EHL of an elastomer to take place.

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