Juan J. Mazo, Pedro J. Martínez, Patricia Pedraz, Jana Hennig, and Enrico Gnecco
The structures produced by a sharp tip scraping a compliant surface are modeled in the illustrative case of scan patterns formed by a series of parallel lines. This is made possible by a modified version of the Prandtl model for stick-slip friction, with an interaction energy landscape replicating the morphology of the evolving surface. As a result, a ripple motif emerges with a tilt angle increasing linearly with the distance between the scan lines, except for the region close to the left boundary of the scanned area, where the ripples are oriented at 90°. This region can penetrate considerably to the right, forming a complex branched pattern. These predictions are substantiated by atomic force microscopy nanolithography experiments on polystyrene surfaces at room temperature. A simple and robust theoretical protocol for reproducing early-stage wear processes (potentially going beyond single contacts) is thus made available.