Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Objectives

This course develops and applies scaling laws and the methods of continuum mechanics to biomechanical phenomena over a range of length scales, from molecular to cellular to tissue or organ level. It is intended for beginning and intermediate graduate students who have been exposed to vectors and tensors, differential equations, undergraduate course(s) in either fluids or fields or transport, and certain aspects of modern biology. Topics include:

Molecular Mechanics

Mechanics at the Nanoscale

  • Intermolecular forces and their origins;
  • Single molecules;
  • Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics;

Formation and Dissolution of Bonds

  • Mechanochemistry;
  • Motion at the molecular and macromolecular level;
  • Muscle mechanics;
  • Experimental methods at the single molecule level - optical and magnetic traps, force spectroscopy, light scattering.

Tissue Mechanics

  • Elastic (time independent);
  • viscoelastic and poroelastic (time-dependent) behavior of tissues;
  • Continuum and microstructural models;
  • Constitutive laws;
  • Electromechanical and physicochemical properties of tissues;
  • Physical regulation of cellular metabolism;
  • Experimental methods - macroscopic rheology.

Cellular Mechanics

  • Static and dynamic cell processes;
  • Cell adhesion, migration and aggregation;
  • Mechanics of biomembranes;
  • The cytoskeleton and cortex;
  • Microrheological properties and their implications;
  • Mechanotransduction;
  • Experimental methods - passive and active rheology, motility and adhesion assays.

Textbooks and Reference Materials

Most of the material will come from journal articles and notes to be handed out by the instructors.

Texts in the library that are useful as general references:

Fung, Y. C. Biomechanics: Mechanical Properties of Living Tissues. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag, 1993. ISBN: 9780387979472.

Nossal, R., and L. Lecar. Molecular and Cell Biophysics. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books, 1991. ISBN: 9780201195606.

Lodish, H., et. al. Molecular Cell Biology. New York, NY: Scientific American Books/W.H. Freeman, 1995. ISBN: 9780716723806.

Dill, K. A., and S. Bromberg. Molecular Driving Forces. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002. ISBN: 9780815320517.

Course Structure and Assignments

20.410 / 2.798J / 6.524J / 10.537J will be taught in lecture format, but with liberal use of class examples and demonstrations to link the course material with various biological issues. Readings will be drawn from a variety of primary and text sources as indicated in the attached lecture schedule. Problems will be assigned each week to be handed in and graded. There will be one in-class exam, a take home final, and a term paper due at the end of the term (details to be described in class).

Term Paper (due two days after session L23)

A term paper will be assigned that will require you to delve more deeply into one of the topics of the course. The paper will utilize the format of a mock NIH research proposal. Additional information concerning the term paper will be provided at a later date.


The term grade will be a weighted average of exams, term paper and homework grades. The weighting distribution will be:

Midterm Quiz 30%
Final 30%
Term Paper 25%
Homeworks 15%

Homework grading is intended to show you how well you are progressing in learning the course material. You are encouraged to seek advice or help from other students and/or to work in study groups. However, the work that is turned in must be your own. The homework exercise should be viewed as a learning experience, not a competition.

The Term Paper is also meant to be an individual effort. However, you should feel free to discuss your project with fellow students. The report is to be written entirely by you. You should acknowledge other sources with proper citations.

Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments