The coefficient of friction of clay minerals at the micro-scale has generally not been studied due to difficulties in obtaining measurements in a bulk-soil volume undergoing shear at such small scales. Information on friction at the micro-scale may provide insight into grain-scale processes that operate in bulk samples or in natural faults. The objective of this study was to develop a method to measure the micro-scale friction coefficient of smectites. The experiments described show that the axial atomic force microscopy method can be adapted to easily obtain accurate coefficient of friction (μ) measurements for smectites from force curves involving colloidal probes. The method allows for the measurements to be performed over spatial scales of a few μm, can be carried out under dry conditions or a wide range of aqueous solutions, and requires no calibration beyond making a few microscopic measurements of the probe. This method provides measurements of micro-scale normal and shear forces between minerals, which can be used for a variety of applications such as the study of shear deformation, consolidation, and fault dynamics. Control tests of silica on mica (μ = 0.29±0.02) agree with literature values where limits indicate one standard deviation. Coefficient of friction values for wet and dry Na-montmorillonite were determined to be 0.20±0.03 and 0.72±0.03, respectively.

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