It’s called tribology, and it’s the study of how the surfaces of two or more bodies in relative motion interact.

Researchers from the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University are spreading out across Europe in the coming months to further the study and understanding of tribology.

“Two important areas of application for coatings in tribology are the control of friction and the reduction of wear,” said Darran Cairns, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “Brakes need to exhibit high friction, while bearings need low friction.”

Aaron Kessman, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, used a travel award from the National Science Foundation to attend Hybrid Materials 2011, in Strasbourg, France. The conference brings together some of the world’s top scientists and engineers. Kessman will present two papers on his research on nanotribology of mesoporous hybrid coatings.

Kessman is working on the development of coatings that are both resistant to wear and are non-wetting. Applications for such a coating include the glass used in displays and touch panels, making them easier to clean.

“This is a great opportunity to be on the cutting edge of hybrid materials research,” said Kessman.

While Kessman is in France, Kostas Sierros, a research assistant professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, is in England, as an invited speaker at the National Center for Advanced Tribology at Southampton. The University of Southampton, which is consistently ranked within the top 100 research universities in the world, serves as the home for nCATS.

“It is a great honor to be invited to speak at Southampton,” said Sierros. “It reflects well on the things we are doing in tribology of coatings at West Virginia University.”

Another of Europe’s top tribology groups, Lulea Technological University in Sweden, will be hosting Cairns; Chris Atkinson, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; and two graduate students later in the month. Cairns and Atkinson will be working on developing a joint research program on active tribology with researchers from the Lulea’s Department of Applied Physics and Mechanical Engineering. This faculty development opportunity was funded, in part, by CEMR’s Nason-Pritchard travel fund.

“Active tribology is the ability to control the interaction between two surfaces in a mechanical system, thus improving performance or enabling a new function,” said Cairns. Cairns is developing active surfaces that can change roughness, and lubricants that can change viscosity in the presence of an electric field. Atkinson is developing control and sensing schemes for such systems. Researchers at Lulea are experts in the tribology of machine element systems.

Joining them in Sweden are Nick Morris and Derrick Banerjee, mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate students. The pair will take part in the Swedish Tribology School, which brings together some of Europe’s top young tribology researchers to study advanced topics under the instruction of luminaries in the field for three days. Morris has a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, while Banerjee is a National Merit Scholarship Winner.

“This is my second course at the Swedish Tribology School,” said Morris. “They are hard work, but really rewarding.” The course consists of lectures, laboratories, extensive written projects and an intense oral exam.

“I’m really looking forward to going,” said Banerjee, “Nick Morris and Aaron Kessman went last year while I was working as an undergraduate student in the laboratory. The opportunity to do things like this really helped me to decide to stay at West Virginia University for graduate school.”

“The College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University provides fantastic resources to initiate international collaborations,” said Cairns. “I don’t know many universities that can support international collaborations as well as we do.”



CONTACT: Mary Dillon; College of Engineering and Mineral Resources