The tribological properties of solid lubricants such as graphite and the metal dichalcogenides MX2 (where M is molybdenum or tungsten and X is sulphur or selenium) are of technological interest for reducing wear in circumstances where liquid lubricants are impractical, such as in space technology, ultra-high vacuum or automotive transport. These materials are characterized by weak interatomic interactions (van der Waals forces) between their layered structures, allowing easy, low-strength shearing. Although these materials exhibit excellent friction and wear resistance and extended lifetime in vacuum, their tribological properties remain poor in the presence of humidity or oxygen, thereby limiting their technological applications in the Earth's atmosphere. But using MX2 in the form of isolated inorganic fullerene-like hollow nanoparticles similar to carbon fullerenes and nanotubes can improve its performance. Here we show that thin films of hollow MoS2 nanoparticles, deposited by a localized high-pressure arc discharge method, exhibit ultra-low friction (an order of magnitude lower than for sputtered MoS2 thin films) and wear in nitrogen and 45% humidity. We attribute this 'dry' behaviour in humid environments to the presence of curved S-Mo-S planes that prevent oxidation and preserve the layered structure.
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