Frictional characteristics of several types of boundary lubricants were tested using scanning probe microscopy (SPM). These include Langmuir monolayers of stearic acids (STA), their cadmium salts (STCd), self-assembling monolayers (SAMs) of alkylchlorsilanes, and complexes of STA with rigid naphthoylene benzimidazole (x-NBI) fragments. We observed that a Langmuir monolayer deposited on a silicon surface had a very low friction coefficient against a silicon nitride tip (about 0.01–0.05) but also low mechanical stability. SAMs were found to be much more stable but had the drawback of growth in the friction coefficient at high sliding velocities. Composite NBI/STA monolayers were much more stable and were not damaged by the highest normal load applied. The frictional behavior of different monolayers was analyzed in relation to their structural organization (the type of tethering to the surface and packing density). We introduced a figure of merit (FOM) parameter which allowed comparison of frictional properties of very different lubricant materials to those of the supporting substrate. For Langmuir monolayers the FOM increased strongly with surface packing density whereas for SAMs and x-NBI/STA complexes it possessed a maximum at surface densities in the range 3.5–4.5 molecules per nm2. Because of the possibility of tailoring the surface packing density of aliphatic tails in the complexes, they are a promising alternative to both LB films and SAMs. For such composite monolayers, the surface packing density can be optimized to give a desired frictional behavior.

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