Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session

Course Catalog Description

This course focuses on the latest scientific developments and discoveries in the field of nanomechanics, the study of forces and motion on extremely tiny (10-9 m) areas of synthetic and biological materials and structures. At this level, mechanical properties are intimately related to chemistry, physics, and quantum mechanics. Most lectures will consist of a theoretical component that will then be compared to recent experimental data (case studies) in the literature. The course begins with a series of introductory lectures that describes the normal and lateral forces acting at the atomic scale. The following discussions include experimental techniques in high resolution force spectroscopy, atomistic aspects of adhesion, nanoindentation, molecular details of fracture, chemical force microscopy, elasticity of single macromolecular chains, intermolecular interactions in polymers, dynamic force spectroscopy, biomolecular bond strength measurements, and molecular motors.


18.03 Differential Equations, 3.11 Mechanics of Materials (suggested) or permission of instructor.

What Requirements Does this Course Satisfy?

Course 3 restricted elective (conditional that the student hasn't taken or plans to take 3 other course 3 restricted electives in macromolecules), restricted elective for the biomedical engineering (BME minor).


There is no textbook for this course. Reading assignments are distributed to students in a class reader; supplementary papers are also suggested as additional study material.

Nanomechanics Podcasts

A collection of nanomechanics podcasts featuring scientists in discussion with MIT students will complement the class lecture sessions. Students are required to listen to these podcasts and review the associated papers.


Midterm exam 33%
Final exam 33%
6 assignments 33%

Academic Honesty

All work turned in for credit - problem sets, exams, etc. - must be your own individual work unless specific instructions to the contrary have been given to you by the instructors. Group discussion of problem sets is allowed and encouraged, but the problems should then be worked out and written up on an individual basis. Turning in problems copied directly from bibles is cheating. During exams exchange of information with others is unacceptable.


A midterm and final exam will be given. The midterm will be one hour long and held during class one day after Lec #12, and the final will be held during the final examination period on the lectures detailed on the course calendar. Exams missed due to documented medical problems and other (very) exceptional circumstances will be made up either by oral or written examination on an individual basis. Exams are closed-book, although a single sheet of notes (front page only, 8-1/2 × 11 inches) will be allowed for each one. You may bring your formula sheet from the midterm to the final exam. Exams may include both analytical problems similar to those in the homework assignments, and also questions dealing with concepts discussed in class or included in the reading assignments. Keeping up with the reading and associated problems on a daily basis, and insuring that the various concepts are well understood, is certainly recommended.


Assignments are due at midnight of the due date. Assignments will be given out one week prior to due date. You can scan a portion and type in a portion.


1 Introduction to nanomechanics  
2 High resolution force spectroscopy (HRFS): The force transducer  
3 Additional nanomechanics instrumentation components  
4 Force versus distance curves  
5 Atomic force microscope (AFM) imaging Homework 1 due
6 AFM imaging II: Artifacts and applications  
7 Single cell mechanics  
8 Qualitative introduction to intra - and intermolecular forces Homework 2 due
9 Quantitative description of intra - and intermolecular forces  
10 Molecule - surface interactions  
11 Colloids and interparticle potentials Homework 3 due
12 Van der Waals forces at work: Gecko feet adhesion  
  Midterm exam - during class time 1 hour  
13 Midterm exam solutions review  
14 The electrical double layer (EDL) - part 1  
15 The electrical double layer (EDL) - part 2  
16 Nanomechanics of cartilage  
17 Protein - surface interactions td>
18 Nanomechanics and biocompatibility: Protein-biomaterial interactions, part 2 Homework 4 due
19 Elasticity of single polymer chains: Theoretical formulations  
20 Theoretical aspects of single molecule force spectroscopy: Extensibility and the worm-like chain (WLC) Homework 5 due
21 Single chain elasticity of biomacromolecules: The giant protein titin and DNA  
22 Theoretical aspects of nanoindentation  
23 Nanoindentation 2: Oliver-Pharr method and one literature example: Nacre Homework 6 due
24 Intermolecular interactions in motility of a biological spring (guest lecture by Danielle France, course TA)  
  Final exam during finals week