Elasticity limits structural superlubricity in large contacts
Geometrically imposed force cancellations lead to ultralow friction between rigid incommensurate crystalline asperities. Elastic deformations may avert this cancellation but are difficult to treat analytically in finite and three-dimensional systems. We use atomic-scale simulations to show that elasticity affects the friction only after the contact radius a exceeds a characteristic length set by the core width of interfacial dislocations bcore. As a increases past bcore, the frictional stress for both incommensurate and commensurate surfaces decreases to a constant value. This plateau corresponds to a Peierls stress that drops exponentially with increasing bcore but remains finite.