We investigate the influence of surface roughness and hydrophobicity on the lubrication of a soft contact, consisting of a poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) sphere and a flat PDMS disk. The full Stribeck curves, showing boundary, mixed and elasto-hydrodynamic (EHL) lubrication, are presented for varying surface roughness and hydrophobicity. It is found that neither surface roughness nor hydrophobicity influence the friction coefficient (μ) within the EHL regime. However, increasing surface roughness decreases μ in the boundary regime, while extending the limits of the boundary and mixed lubrication regimes to larger values of the product of velocity and lubricant viscosity (Uη). The transition from the mixed lubrication to EHL regime is found to take place at lower values of the film thickness parameter Λ for increasingly rough surfaces. We found Λ=0.7 in the case of a root mean square (r.m.s.) surface roughness of 3.6 μm, suggesting that the effective surface roughness in a compliant compressed tribological contact is lower than that at ambient pressures. Rendering the PDMS surface hydrophilic promotes full-film lubrication and dramatically lowers μ in the boundary regime by more than an order of magnitude. This influence of surface wetting is also displayed when examining a range of lubricants using hydrophobic tribopairs, where the boundary μ decreases with decreasing lubricant–substrate contact angle. Implications of these measurements are discussed in terms of the creation of model surfaces for biotribological applications.
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