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We have implemented a force modulation technique for nanoindentation using a three-plate capacitive load-displacement transducer. The stiffness sensitivity of the instrument is ∼0.1 N/m. We show that the sensitivity of this instrument is sufficient to detect long-range surface forces and to locate the surface of a specimen. The low spring mass (236 mg), spring constant (116 N/m), and damping coefficient (0.008 Ns/m) of the transducer allows measurement of the damping losses for nanoscale contacts. We present the experimental technique, important specimen mounting information, and system calibration for nanomechanical property measurement. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.