Colloid probe atomic force microscopy has been used to study the nanotribological properties of the silica–ethylammonium nitrate (EAN)–mica system. Normal force curve measurements reveal a series of steps at separations that are consistent with the size of an EAN ion pair (0.5 nm) due to displacement of structured solvent layers as the two surfaces are brought together. At closest separations, two steps are measured with widths of 0.3 nm and 0.1 nm, which are too small to be due to an ion pair layer. The 0.3 nm step is attributed to a partial displacement of a silica-bound cation-rich layer, with residual cations being removed in the subsequent 0.1 nm step. Lateral force measurements reveal that the frictional response is dependent on the number of ion pair layers between the surfaces. At low forces, when there is more than a single layer of EAN between silica and mica, the lateral force increases relatively steeply with applied load, and is independent of the sliding speed. At intermediate forces, a single layer of cations in an intercalated bilayer structure is present between the surfaces. The friction coefficient (μ) increases logarithmically with sliding speed consistent with an activated, discontinuous sliding process. At high force, μ is small and once again, independent of sliding velocity. The adsorbed cation layer is bound primarily to mica and compressed by the high normal force. This robust layering with a well-defined sliding plane permits the colloid probe to slide easily over the mica surface.
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics Vol. 14, Issue 15, p. 5147-5152