A new technique is described for sliding (shearing) two molecularly smooth surfaces laterally past each other in liquids while monitoring their exact contact area, the normal and transverse forces, and the surface separation. First, we show that the elastic deformations of two initially curved surfaces in adhesive contact are the same under static and dynamic (i.e., sliding) conditions. Detailed results are then presented of how the shear properties of thin films of water and a simple nonpolar liquid are “quantized” with the number of layers. Results with water as the intervening liquid, as well as the effects of humidity on sliding in air, reveal that more complex mechanisms are operating than with simple liquids which appear to be related to the complex “hydration” forces between two surfaces in water or in aqueous salt solutions. The results suggest a close correlation between the static forces and shear properties of very thin liquid films, and the molecular structure of the liquids confined within such films.

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