Soft hydrated sliding interfaces as complex fluids
Hydrogel surfaces are biomimics for sensing and mobility systems in the body such as the eyes and large joints due to their important characteristics of flexibility, permeability, and integrated aqueous component. Recent studies have shown polymer concentration gradients resulting in a less dense region in the top micrometers of the surface. Under shear, this gradient is hypothesized to drive lubrication behavior due to its rheological similarity to a semi-dilute polymer solution. In this work we map 3 distinct lubricating regimes between a polyacrylamide surface and an aluminum annulus using stepped-velocity tribo-rheometry over 5 decades of sliding speed in increasing and decreasing steps. These regimes, characterized by weakly or strongly time-dependent response and thixotropy-like hysteresis, provide the skeleton of a lubrication curve for hydrogel-against-hard material interfaces and support hypotheses of polymer mechanics-driven lubrication. Tribo-rheometry is particularly suited to uncover the lubrication mechanisms of complex interfaces such as are formed with hydrated hydrogel surfaces and biological surfaces.