Tribology…What’s in a Name?
by Michael Holloway, CLS, OMA I
North America Sales Manager

Many involved in the world of lubrication know the meaning of the word tribology. Some refer to it as the study of friction, lubrication and wear while others define it as the science and technology of interacting surfaces in relative motion and of related subjects and practices.

A physicist by the name of David Tabor first came up with the term using a combination of Greek root words tríbō which means “to rub” and Logia which means “the study of”. It wasn’t until 1964 when an engineer by the name of Peter Jost was investigating wear mechanisms and increasing friction within machines did the term take hold. In a now famous report dubbed “The Jost Report” issued in 1966 which focused on how much money was being lost due to wear due to friction and improper lubrication, was the term freely used to describe the circumstances leading up to significant wear due to the compromise of lubrication.

While Jost may have been considered the first to use the term in a publication, he certainly wasn’t the first to consider the study of friction, lubrication or wear; that honor may well reside with Leonardo da Vinci. There are many accomplishments that da Vinci is known for such as his paintings, namely the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, or as being an accomplished engineer and scientist. His scientific talent had its foundation on his ability to observe.

In the late 1400’s da Vinci noticed that resistance was the same for two different objects of the same weight but making contacts over different widths and lengths. He also noticed that the force needed to overcome friction doubles when the weight doubles. It wasn’t until much later that other scientists took his initial observations and went further. It is highly possible that many others before di Vinci understood the principles he observed, but da Vinci actually theorized and experimented in order to establish a rule by which many of his observations could actually become predictors of events.

Though tribology may seem to only be relative to machines, it has many other applications such as reducing drag in competitive swimming suits or rejuvenating knee and hip joints via injectable treatments or prosthetics. Tribology is all around us from our lap-tops, to microwave ovens, to our vehicles. It is fair to say that tribology has contributed to the advancement of our society and many of the comforts we enjoy.