Stick-slip motions in the friction force microscope: Effects of tip compliance

William G. Conley, Purdue University
Charles M. Krousgrill, Purdue University
Arvind Raman, Birck Nanotechnology Center, Purdue University

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When a microcantilever with a nanoscale tip is scanned laterally over a surface to measure the nanoscale frictional forces, the onset of stick-slip tip motions is an extremely important phenomenon that signals the onset of lateral friction forces. In this article, we investigate theoretically the influence of tip and microcantilever compliance on this phenomenon. We show that static considerations alone cannot predict uniquely the onset of single or multiple atom slip events. Instead, the nonlinear dynamics of the tip during a slip event need to be carefully investigated to determine if the tip evolves to a single or multiple atom stick-slip motions. The results suggest that the relative compliances of the tip and microcantilever can be engineered to induce single or multiple atom stick-slip events and thus control lateral friction forces at the nanoscale.