A study is presented of the nanomechanical phenomena experienced by nanoparticle-conjugated biomolecules. A thermodynamic framework is developed to describe the binding of thrombin-binding aptamer (TBA) to thrombin when the TBA is conjugated to nanorods. Binding results in nanorod aggregation (viz. directed self-assembly), which is detectable by absorption spectroscopy. The analysis introduces the energy of aggregation, separating it into TBA–thrombin recognition and surface-work contributions. Consequently, it is demonstrated that self-assembly is driven by the interplay of surface work and thrombin-TBA recognition. It is shown that the work at the surface is about −10 kJ mol−1 and results from the accumulation of in-plane molecular forces of pN magnitude and with a lifetime of <1 s, which arises from TBA nanoscale rearrangements fuelled by thrombin-directed nanorod aggregation. The obtained surface work can map aggregation regimes as a function of different nanoparticle surface conditions. Also, the thermodynamic treatment can be used to obtain quantitative information on surface effects impacting biomolecules on nanoparticle surfaces.