Materials Science Program newsletter masthead


Center for NanoTechnology to push lithography below 35 nanometers

Zapping food pathogens at the source

Faculty profile: Rob Carpick

Measuring friction on a smaller scale

Robert W. Carpick

Robert W. Carpick view larger image

Assistant Professor Rob Carpick rubs his research the right way: He studies the frictional and mechanical properties of thin polymer films only one to three molecular layers thick. "What is interesting about these films is that you can see how the molecular structure affects the friction force," he says. He likens the concept to train tracks. When you slide along the polymer linkage, like a train rolling down the tracks, friction is low, but friction becomes much higher, like crossing the tracks, when you slide across the polymer linkage. "The importance of this result is that it means you could potentially design surfaces where you could control the direction of sliding of materials on top of that surface," Carpick explains. "This could be useful for assembling very small, nanoscale components."

Carpick is setting up an advanced scanning-probe microscopy lab and building his own customized scanning-probe instruments. The tools are like a miniature record player; he puts a tiny tip (like a record needle) in contact with a surface, and measures the resulting friction, load, adhesion and other forces.

This past winter, Carpick received a prestigious $375,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award for his project, "The Dependence of Friction on Vibrations at the Atomic Scale: A Fundamental Study Using Isotopic Engineering."

Recently colleagues introduced the Winnipeg native to a less academic study in friction: the sport of curling. "Curling is familiar to anyone growing up in Canada and it was fun to finally get to try it out," he says. He also plays keyboard instruments, including the harpsichord, clavichord and pipe organ. "I am an avid devotee of Baroque music — especially Bach and the composers in and around his generation," says Carpick . "Playing music is incredibly relaxing and stimulating to me."


Materials News is published twice a year for alumni and friends of the Materials Science Program.

Send address changes and other correspondence to:

Materials Science Program
1509 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1595

For HTML and other technical matters, contact:

Contact the Web Team

Date last modified: Monday, 17-Jan-2011 17:46:35 CST
Date created: 11-Jun-2002

Materials News homepageMaterials Science ProgramCollege of EngineeringUW-Madison |

UW-Madison homepage Materials News homepage Materials Science Program homepage