Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It is reasonable to assume that covering for example an airplane with Teflon would lead to it having lower wind resistance? The reason why I ask is that Teflon "has one of the lowest coefficients of friction against any solid." according to Wikipedia.

share|improve this question
    
Note: against any solid. –  P O'Conbhui Apr 12 '12 at 16:25
    
@PO'Conbhui That was the reason for me asking. Whether low friction against solid also meant low friction against air. –  David Apr 12 '12 at 18:50
    
I see. The short answer, I suppose, is no. At least not necessarily. Friction is due to microscopic factors while resistance in a fluid is mainly due to macroscopic factors. –  P O'Conbhui Apr 12 '12 at 23:55

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The resistance to flow through air is not the same as the coefficient of friction.

When air is flowing over a surface the flow is generally laminar very near to the surface, though it may be turbulent further away from the surface. Anyhow, in laminar flow the air immediately next to the surface isn't moving. The air doesn't flow by sliding over the surface, it flows by shearing the layers of air near the surface. There is no "frictional sliding" analagous to two solids sliding over one another, so there is no concept of a friction co-efficient.

Now to Teflon. You need to be very careful when talking about Teflon having a low friction. It has a low surface energy, so other materials tend not to adhere to it, and it's the adhesion between surfaces that is the physical origin of friction. This adhesion may be Van der Waals forces, dipolar forces or even chemical bonding, and Teflon is non-polar and chemically inert hence the low adhesion.

But outside the laboratory friction has various components. In particular you get energy losses due to plastic deformation in the surfaces that are sliding over each other, and this manifests as a frictional force i.e. the energy loss means you need to do work to slide the surfaces. Teflon dissipates more enery in this way than e.g. glass, so the friction is not necessarily lower than e.g. glass with a good boundary lubricant.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.