We have described a powerful tool for the study of mechanical interactions between cells and their physical environment. Although the approach has already been used in a variety of ways to measure traction forces and to characterize active and passive responses of cultured cells to mechanical stimulation, it can be extended easily and combined with other microscopic approaches, including fluorescent analog imaging (Beningo et al., 2001), photobleaching, calcium imaging, micromanipulation, and electrophysiology. This method will be particularly useful for studying the functions of various components at focal adhesions, and the effects of mechanical forces on focal adhesion-mediated signal transduction. In addition, the method can be extended to a 3D setting, e.g., by sandwiching cultured cells between two layers of polyacrylamide to create an environment mimicking that in the tissue of a multicellular organism. Whereas chemical interactions between cells and the environment have been investigated extensively, many important questions remain as to the role of physical forces in cellular functions and the interplay between chemical and physical mechanisms of communication. The present approach, as well as other approaches capable of probing physical interactions, should fill in this important gap in the near future.