We report experimental and computational observations of dynamic contact networks for colloidal
suspensions undergoing shear thickening. The dense suspensions are comprised of sterically stabilized poly(methyl methacrylate) colloids that are spherically symmetric and have varied surface roughness. Confocal rheometry and dissipative particle dynamics simulations show that the shear thickening strength \(\beta\) scales exponentially with the scaled deficit contact number and the scaled jamming distance. Rough colloids, which experience additional rotational constraints, require an average of 1.5–2 fewer particle contacts as compared to smooth colloids, in order to generate the same \(\beta\). This is because the surface roughness enhances geometric friction in such a way that the rough colloids do not experience a large change in the free volume near the jamming point. The available free volume for colloids of different roughness is related to the deficiency from the maximum number of nearest neighbors at jamming under shear. Our results further suggest that the force per contact is different for particles with different morphologies.