Alfred Nordmann. "Nanotribology and the Quest for the Frictionless Surface: How an Impossible Object Inspires Science & Engineering"
Prof. Alfred Nordmann
Professor, Institut für Philosophie, Technische Universität Darmstadt
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, University of South Carolina
Abstract: As research fields go, tribology is concerned with the rather mundane problem of increasing
the efficiency of machines by reducing the loss of energy from friction. Like other emerging technologies,
nanotribology goes beyond this traditional engineering problem in quest of a pure phenomenon –
superlubricity and frictionless motion. The problem of attaining frictionless and thus, in principle, endless
motion is taken to be one of producing an absolutely clean surface, free of atomic grime and thus also of any
kind of lubricant. I will introduce this theory of frictionless motion and its rogue offspring, the perpetuum
mobile. In an apparently paradoxical manner, the nanotechnological quest for a pure phenomenon yields
a proof of concept that lacks technological significance: frictionless motion can be demonstrated under
laboratory conditions that cannot be translated into practice – and it exemplifies a theory that is too good to
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