Science featured a groundbreaking new article in their June 26, 2011 issue. I highly recommend accessing the full study: The Mosaic of Surface Charge Contact Electrification. In the meantime, allow me to break down the basic components of this new principle in a way which is easy to understand whether or not you have a PhD in nanotechnology. First a definition:
Kelvin force microscopy: a microscope which observes objects at the atomic level by measuring the interaction between the probe tip and the surface.
Rubbing materials together under the Kelvin force microscopy lens, researchers discovered that charges don't transfer uniformly. In other words, any given material is neither positively nor is it negatively charged. Every material has both charges. Picture a very large checkerboard, rather than having a patterned surface of black then white then black, the surfaces of materials have a jumbled mishmash of squares falling in no predictable order.