In this paper, the frictional behavior of a neutral hydrogel, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), on smooth solid substrates with various levels of hydrophobicity have been investigated in water using a strain-controlled parallel-plate rheometer. For the sliding velocity dependence of friction, we detected a distinct friction transition on hydrophobic substrates that are strongly adhesive to the gel, while no clear transition was observed on hydrophilic substrates that are weakly adhesive to the gel. Even on the most hydrophobic substrate, the maximum frictional stress is approximately 1/10–1/5 of the gel’s elastic modulus under a large normal strain of 26%. Furthermore, the frictional stress on hydrophobic substrates in the high velocity region, larger than the transition, is much lower than that on hydrophilic ones. We attempted to explain these phenomena with the help of two models: a molecular model based on the thermal fluctuations occurring during adsorption–desorption of polymers and a continuum mechanics model based on elastic dewetting and forced wetting.
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