What is Tribology?

In 1966, a report published by the UK Department of Education and Science introduced the concept of tribology, which was defined as the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion. Tribology, as a “new science” studies friction, wear, and lubrication. These three processes affect each other with interacting causes and effects: tribology is the study of them as they interact. The term tribology comes from Greek words tribos meaning rubbing or sliding and logos meaning science. After an initial period of scepticism, as is inevitable for any newly introduced word or concept, the word “tribology” has gained gradual acceptance. As the word tribology is relatively new, its meaning is still unclear to the wider community and humorous comparisons with tribes or tribolites tend to persist as soon as the word “tribology” is mentioned.


The tribology is one of the many new technical disciplines whose development has a great influence on the reliability and life of mechanical systems. Interdisciplinary character of the tribology and presence of tribological processes in most of mechanical systems demand researches in all fields of industry. This is especially important in transportation, machine production industry, ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy and power plants, where these tribological activities achieve significant technical and economical effects. The great losses in industry and transportation because of friction and especially wear of the material are the best stimulation for tribology development. The biggest contribution of the tribology is noticeable in materials, design of machine elements and systems and their maintenance.


Tribological constraints are not confined only to mechanical equipment. Computers and electronic equipment are also a fertile source of tribological problems yet to be solved. A major limitation of data transmission is that for data transfer from a memory disk to a recording head, sliding contact must occur between the disk and the head. If there is, however, true solid to solid contact between these two parts then transferred data will be affected and degraded by wear damage. The human body itself is also prone to friction and wear problems. The human joints are perfect bearings lubricated by synovial fluid and operating usually without failure for a very long time. In a healthy human joint, an extremely low coefficient of friction is maintained, values as low as 0.005 have been measured. It has also been shown that the synovial fluid effectively prevents contact between the joint surfaces. However, when rheumatism and in particular arthritis occurs fragments of cartilage and bone are observed in the synovial fluid. These particles are wear particles generated during the operation of the joint, and like other wear particles could induce serious damages.

Tribology tree