Friction force microscopy (FFM) can detect lateral force variations on the atomic scale when sliding a sharp tip over a flat surface. The sliding often takes the form of a stick-slip movement with the same periodicity as the atomic lattice. Here, I discuss how the occurrence of stick-slip instabilities is related to the onset of dissipation. The velocity and load dependence of atomic friction on various materials are discussed in the light of simple classical laws of friction.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(05)00845-X