Life operates at the intersection of chemistry and mechanics. Over the years, we have made remarkable progress in understanding life from a biochemical perspective and the mechanics of life at the single-molecule scale. Yet the full integration of physical and mechanical models into mainstream biology has been impeded by technical and conceptual barriers, including limitations in our ability to 1) easily measure and apply mechanical forces to biological systems, 2) scale these measurements from single-molecule characterization to more complex biomolecular systems, and 3) model and interpret biophysical data in a coherent way across length scales that span single molecules to cells to multicellular organisms. In this manuscript, through a look at historical and recent developments in force spectroscopy techniques and a discussion of a few exemplary open problems in cellular biomechanics, we aim to identify research opportunities that will help us reach our goal of a more complete and integrated understanding of the role of force and mechanics in biological systems.
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