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A multi-mode analysis of micro-cantilever dynamics is presented. We derive the power spectral density of the cantilever displacement due to a thermal noise source and predict the cantilevers’s fundamental resonant frequency and higher harmonics. The first mode in the multi-mode model is equivalent to the traditional single-mode model. Experimental results obtained with a silicon nitride cantilever at 300 K are in excellent qualitative agreement with the multi-mode model. The multi-mode model may be used to obtain accurate values of the cantilever properties such as the elastic modulus, effective mass, thickness and moment of inertia. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.