Note on the history of contact mechanics and friction


No future without history! A great article on the history of great discoveries in the field of contact mechanics and friction was recently published by Elena Popova and Valentin L. Popov. Here we present the abstract of the article.


Great discoveries are often perceived by subsequent generations as sudden insights of genius scientists. Historical studies show, however, that the real mechanism of creation of new theories and paradigms is often a transfer of knowledge from one subject area to the other. Such transfers made the military engineer Coulomb the founder of the theory of electricity, they made the professor for celestial mechanics Poisson the founder of the electrostatics, and the pioneer in electrodynamics Hertz also became the founder of contact mechanics. Transfer of knowledge can be traced as a very effective way of development of science in many other cases. It often leads to breakthrough and rapid development of the whole branches of science. In the present paper we trace such transfers of knowledge in the history of elasticity and contact mechanics on one side and electrostatics on the other side. The participants of this historical process are Coulomb, Poisson, Hertz, Inglis, Griffith and finally the authors of the theory of adhesive contacts Johnson, Kendall and Roberts. Interestingly, the same principle of “exaptation” (use of a property for a function for which it was not originally created) is currently accepted theory of how major innovations happen also in biological evolution.

A full-text article is available here.

Material was kindly provided by V. L. Popov.

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