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Squeezing out hydrated protons: low-frictional-energy triboelectric insulator charging on a microscopic scale

Author(s): Nikolaus Knorr

Journal: AIP Advances
ISSN 2158-3226

Volume: 1;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 022119;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Though triboelectric charging of insulators is common, neither its mechanism nor the nature of the charge is well known. Most research has focused on the integral amount of charge transferred between two materials upon contact, establishing, e.g., a triboelectric series. Here, the charge distribution of tracks on insulating polymer films rubbed by polymer-covered pointed swabs is investigated in high resolution by Kelvin probe force microscopy. Pronounced bipolar charging was observed for all nine rubbing combinations of three different polymers, with absolute surface potentials of up to several volts distributed in streaks along the rubbing direction and varying in polarity on μm-length scales perpendicular to the rubbing direction. Charge densities increased considerably for rubbing in higher relative humidity, for higher rubbing loads, and for more hydrophilic polymers. The ends of rubbed tracks had positively charged rims. Surface potential decay with time was strongly accelerated in increased humidity, particularly for polymers with high water permeability. Based on these observations, a mechanism is proposed of triboelectrification by extrusions of prevalently hydrated protons, stemming from adsorbed and dissociated water, along pressure gradients on the surface by the mechanical action of the swab. The validity of this mechanism is supported by explanations given recently in the literature for positive streaming currents of water at polymer surfaces and by reports of negative charging of insulators tapped by accelerated water droplets and of potential built up between the front and the back of a rubbing piece, observations already made in the 19th century. For more brittle polymers, strongly negatively charged microscopic abrasive particles were frequently observed on the rubbed tracks. The negative charge of those particles is presumably due in part to triboemission of electrons by polymer chain scission, forming radicals and negatively charged ions.
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