A method for mechanical stimulation of cells includes providing a substrate comprising a plurality of microactuators embedded in an environmentally responsive hydrogel polymer layer disposed on a region of the surface; adhering at least one cell to the substrate; and exposing the environmentally responsive hydrogel polymer layer to a stimulus, the stimulus changing a volume of the environmentally responsive hydrogel polymer layer from a first volume to a second volume and thereby moving the microactuators from a first position to a second position, wherein the movement of the microactuators provides localized mechanical force directly to cells on the substrate.
 This work was supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Award No. FA9550-09-1-0669-DOD35CAP), the U.S. Department of Energy (Award No. DE-SC0005247) and the National Science Foundation (Award No. DMR-0820484). The United States Government may have certain rights to the invention.