Much effort is currently invested in the development of (bio)materials with well-defined mechanical properties. This is motivated by the desire to measure cell generated forces in situ at the molecular level and to direct cellular behaviour using controlled mechanical stimuli. In parallel, materials scientists aim at the development of self-reporting and self-healing materials that respond to mechanical force in a pre-defined way. Key to all these efforts are mechanosensitive molecular building blocks, such as synthetic, small-molecule mechanophores and mechanoresponsive biomolecules [1, 2].
Focussing on common principles that guide the design of mechanosensitive molecules, I will introduce our current set of synthetic and biological mechanical building blocks. Following a mechanical calibration at the single-molecule level, these building blocks are equipped with a fluorescent reporter system that reports on the mechanical state of the molecule. This allows us to directly observe the force acting on an individual molecule using a fluorescence readout so that a molecular force sensor is obtained [1, 2]. Considering the above applications, such sensors report on mechanical material deformation in a highly sensitive manner down to the single-molecule level. Our approach further opens up new routes toward correlating the bulk and molecular mechanical properties of a material and for the development of tuneable extracellular matrix mimics whose mechanical properties are controlled at the molecular level.
 M. J. Jacobs et al., Chem. Sci. 5 (2014) 1680.
 M. Goktas et al., Adv. Mater. Interfaces 4 (2017) 1600441.