Various recent experimental observations indicate that growing cells on engineered materials can alter their physiology, function, and fate. This finding suggests that better molecular-level understanding of the interactions between cells and materials may guide the design and construction of sophisticated artificial substrates, potentially enabling control of cells for use in various biomedical applications. In this review, we introduce recent research results that shed light on molecular events and mechanisms involved in the interactions between cells and materials. We discuss the development of materials with distinct physical, chemical, and biological features, cellular sensing of the engineered materials, transfer of the sensing information to the cell nucleus, subsequent changes in physical and chemical states of genomic DNA, and finally the resulting cellular behavior changes. Ongoing efforts to advance materials engineering and the cell–material interface will eventually expand the cell-based applications in therapies and tissue regenerations.