New research by Israeli scientists about how friction works in physics may be useful in assessing a wide range of phenomena, from computer hard drives to earthquakes.

In an article by Professor Jay Fineberg of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his doctoral students Oded Ben-David and Shmuel Rubinstein appearing in the journal Nature, the scientists show how frictional strength evolves from extremely short to long time scales.

Millionths of seconds before bodies start to slide against one another, a miniature “earthquake” tears through the interface and ruptures the contacts, Fineberg explains, going on to say that from that moment of contact rupture, four distinct and interrelated phases of evolution are identified. These include the violent rupture phase, resultant contact weakening, and continue through renewal and re-strengthening. These results provide a comprehensive picture of how frictional strength evolves.

Fineberg emphasizes that a fundamental understanding of these processes could lead the way to manipulation and control of such dynamics, at small and large scales alike, such as the read/write cycle of hard drives, frictional dissipation in an internal combustion engine, and the dynamics of earthquakes.