Tribology and the Human Evolution

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Tribology, not a common household word, is the science of wear, friction, and lubrication, studying how interacting surfaces behave in relative motion. Tribology does not work in isolation but affects a multitude of other fields including, but not limited to, mechanical engineering, manufacturing, chemical engineering, physics, mathematics, biomedical engineering, and computer science.

Tribology is an integral component of everyday life. It has always existed, we just did not have a word to describe it or even have any understanding of the process involved. Gwidon W. Stachowiak discusses this idea in the article “How Tribology Has Been Helping Us to Advance and to Survive“.

Basic human physical responses rely on tribology. When we experience fear or stress, our hands and feet sweat. This process allows our feet to more firmly grip the ground, making it easier to run from the danger. It also allows our hands to more firmly grip a weapon, making it easier to stand and face the danger head on.

The world of animals is filled with tribology and as we have gained an understanding of the adaptations of various animals, we have been able to improve human life. The shark’s ability to swim at great speeds is due to its streamlined physical structure and the unique texture of its skin. Researchers have taken this knowledge and applied it to technology such as dive suits and submarines. Geckos have an amazing ability to effortlessly walk across ceilings, their paws sticking and unsticking from surfaces with great ease. Researchers are using this knowledge to create new adhesives.

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The world of technology continues to expand exponentially, which would not be possible without tribology. Tribology allows us to determine how different components will affect each other while in motion, specifically looking at wear, friction, and lubrication. Stopping a car on an icy road is vastly different from stopping a car on a dry road. Tribology has provided the answers regarding how to vary tires to fit different environments, providing greater safety for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians alike.

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We, as human beings, always seem to be looking for new adventures, new areas of exploration. Space has long had a strong call on us. Tribology has provided the expertise that has allowed us to indulge these desires and go exploring. As the environment in space is vastly different from that on earth, materials must be adapted to fit the environment, including lubricants. Tribology has allowed us to discover how to create lubricants for space vehicles that will not freeze or break down in the inhospitable environment.

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As we face global warming, we are experiencing quickly changing weather patterns. The movement patterns of glaciers and other bodies of ice are rapidly changing. Understanding the tribology behind the movement allows us to understand how these bodies of ice moved in the past and how environmental changes will affect their movement in the future.

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Everyone understands that friction and wear are inevitable. We wear out our favourite pair of shoes or jeans. The tires on the vehicle need to be replaced on a regular basis. Tribology studies these issues, providing information on how to lessen the effect friction and wear have on everyday items.

The effects of friction and wear are extremely costly in many fields. Technology does not tend to work extremely efficiently due to the loss of energy resulting from friction and wear. Production and manufacturing industries pass these costs on to the consumer. As the study of tribology continues, solutions to decrease these affects of friction and wear are discovered. Incorporating these solutions will allow the creation of more efficient technology.

Friction and wear also have environmental effects. Inefficient machinery requires more energy to operate, which often comes in the form of fossil fuels. This is depleting Earth’s limited natural resources. Friction and wear causes pipelines to crack, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into our fragile environment. Tribology is how researchers study these issues in order to create solutions for a safer, cleaner world. The term Green Tribology has become part of the vocabulary now.

Therefore, while many have never heard the word tribology, it is an integral component of our lives. Researchers will continue to put a great deal of effort into the study of tribology in order to improve the lives of everyone around the world.


Read further in the original article: How tribology has been helping us to advance and to survive,

Founder of TriboNet, Editor, PhD (Tribology), Tribology Scientist at ASML, The Netherlands. Expertise in lubrication, friction, wear and contact mechanics with emphasis on modeling. Creator of Tribology Simulator.

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting. New way of understanding the tribology, i. e. Physical structure changes of animals like shark evolved due to tribological effect. Nice thinking.

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