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The vibrational characteristics of a cantilever beam are well known to strongly depend on the fluid in which the beam is immersed. In this paper, we present a detailed theoretical analysis of the frequency response of a cantilever beam, that is immersed in a viscous fluid and excited by an arbitrary driving force. Due to its practical importance in application to the atomic force microscope (AFM), we consider in detail the special case of a cantilever beam that is excited by a thermal driving force. This will incorporate the presentation of explicit analytical formulae and numerical results, which will be of value to the users and designers of AFM cantilever beams. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.