Insight into atomic-scale adhesion at the C-Cu interface during the initial stage of nanoindentation

Jian Gao, Xichun Luo, Wenlong Chang, Zhengjian Wang, Yongda Yan, Yanquan Geng

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Adhesion is a common phenomenon in nanomachining which affects processing accuracy and repeatability. As material removal approaches the atomic or close-to-atomic scale, quantum mechanics becomes the dominant principle behind the atomic-level interaction. However, atomic-scale effects cannot be properly described by empirical potential function-based molecular dynamics simulations. This study uses a first-principles method to reveal the atomic-scale adhesion between a diamond tip and a copper slab during initial-stage nanoindentation. Using a simplified tip and slab model, adhesion energy, electronic distribution, and density of states are analyzed based on quantum chemistry calculation. Results show that atomic adhesion is primarily due to the covalent bonding interaction between C and Cu atoms, which can induce structural changes to the diamond tip and copper slab. The effects of tip position and angles on adhesion are further studied through a series of simulations. The results show that adhesion between the tip and slab is sensitive to the lattice structure and a variant in angstroms is enough to cause different adhesion and structural changes. The actual determinants of adhesion can only be the atomic and electronic structures at the tip–slab interface. Bond rotation and breakage are observed during simulation and their effects on adhesion are further discussed. To conclude, the first-principles method is important for the analysis of an atomic-scale interaction system, even if only as an aid to describing adhesion at atomic and electronic scales.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Pages (from-to)250-258
Number of pages9
JournalNanomanufacturing and Metrology
Issue number3
Early online date26 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


  • nanoindentation
  • adhesion
  • diamond
  • copper
  • first-principles
  • density functional theory


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