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Relation between inter-particle friction and the maizena effect

The process by which sheared suspensions go through a dramatic change in viscosity is known as discontinuous shear thickening. Although well-characterized on the macroscale, the microscopic mechanisms at play in this transition are still poorly understood.

Here, by developing new experimental procedures based on quartz-tuning fork atomic force microscopy, we measure the pairwise frictional profile between approaching pairs of polyvinyl chloride and cornstarch particles in solvent. We report a clear transition from a low-friction regime, where pairs of particles support a finite normal load, while interacting purely hydrodynamically, to a high-friction regime characterized by hard repulsive contact between the particles and sliding friction.

Critically, we show that the normal stress needed to enter the frictional regime at nanoscale matches the critical stress at which shear thickening occurs for macroscopic suspensions. Our experiments bridge nano and macroscales and provide long needed demonstration of the role of frictional forces in discontinuous shear thickening.

Article published in Nature Communications

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