Dynamics of Precursors to Frictional Sliding

S. M. Rubinstein, G. Cohen, and J. Fineberg

Racah Institute of Physics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91904, Israel

(Received 26 March 2007)

We measure the spatial and temporal behavior of the true contact area A along a rough spatially extended interface between two blocks in frictional contact. Upon the application of shear the onset of motion is preceded by a discrete sequence of cracklike precursors, which are initiated at shear levels that are well below the threshold for static friction. These precursors arrest well before traversing the entire interface. They systematically increase in length with the applied shear force and significantly redistribute the true contact area along the interface. Thus, when frictional sliding occurs, the initially uniform contact area along the interface has already evolved to one that is highly nonuniform in space.