Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Mechanical Engineering

First Adviser

Krick, Brandon A.


For nearly a century, molybdenum disulfide has been employed as a solid lubricant to reduce the friction and wear between surfaces. MoS2 is in a class of unique materials, transition metal dichalcogens (TMDC), that have a single crystal structure forming lamellae that interact via weak van der Waals forces. This dissertation focuses on the link between the microstructure of MoS2 and the energetics of running film formation to reduce friction, and effects of environmental sensitivities on performance. Nitrogen impinged MoS2 films are utilized as a comparator to amorphous PVD deposited MoS2 in many of the studies due to the highly ordered surface parallel basal texture of sprayed films. Comparisons showed that films with a highly ordered structure can reduce high friction behavior during run-in. It is thought that shear induced reorientation of amorphous films contributes to typically high initial friction during run-in.In addition to a reduction in initial friction, highly ordered MoS2 films are shown to be more resistant to penetration from oxidative aging processes. High sensitivity, low-energy ion scattering (HS-LEIS) enabled depth profiles that showed oxidation limited to the first monolayer for ordered films and throughout the depth (4-5 nm) for amorphous films. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy supported these findings, showing far more oxidation in amorphous films than ordered films.Many of these results show the benefits of a well run-in coating, yet transient increases in initial friction can still be noticed after only 5 – 10 minutes. It was found that the transient return to high initial friction after dwell times past 5 – 10 minutes was not due to adsorbed species such as water, but possibly an effect of basal plane relaxation to a commensurate state. Additional techniques and methods were developed to study the effect of adsorbed water and load on running film formation via spiral orbit XRD studies. Spiral orbit experiments enabled large enough worn areas for study in the XRD. Diffraction patterns for sputtered coatings at high loads (1N) showed more intense signals for surface parallel basal plane representation than lower loads (100mN). Tests run in dry and humid nitrogen (20% RH), however, showed no differences in reorientation of basal planes. Microstructure was found to be an important factor in determining the tribological performance of MoS2 films in a variety of testing conditions and environments. These findings will be useful in developing a mechanistic framework that better understands the energetics of running film formation and how different environments play a role.