Kate Nichols is an artist obsessed with mimicry in biology and art, and how it blurs the boundaries between nature and artifice, science and art

She can trace this interest back some ten years—when she became wholly consumed by the desire to paint the luminosity of human skin in the way Northern Renaissance and Baroque painters did. Kate left college for a year to study as a painter’s apprentice, learning fifteenth-century painting and paint-making techniques.

After practicing as a painter in San Francisco for a number of years, Kate became fascinated by the surfaces of structurally colored animals—metallic-looking beetles, butterflies, and fish. Kate wrote a letter to scientist Paul Alivisatos at UC Berkeley, relating her wish to mimic these colors using nanoparticles. Much to her surprise, Alivisatos invited her to join his lab as its artist-in-residence, an offer she readily accepted. The methods by which Kate’s lab mates taught her to make nanoparticles were similar to those she encountered as a painter’s apprentice. She watched, repeated their actions, and made mistakes—in essence, she learned through mimicry. Her circuitous path, compelled by curiosity, has resulted in an art practice that blurs the line between science and art.

Kate was recently awarded the 2015 Richard Diebenkorn Teaching Fellowship, an honor the San Francisco Art Institute extends to one early- to mid-career painter each year. In 2010, Kate was appointed a TED Fellow and was awarded a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship. Despite her devotion to apprentice-style learning, Kate holds a B.A. in Studio Art from Kenyon College, a M.A. in Visual Studies from UC Berkeley, and an MFA from California College of the Arts. She has given lectures at TED, Stanford University, the University of Florida, 3M corporate headquarters, and the San Jose Museum of Art.




2013Master of Fine Arts, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California 2010Master of Arts in Visual Studies, University of California, Berkeley 2004Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio 


2015Richard Diebenkorn Teaching Fellow, San Francisco Art Institute 2015Scientific Delirium Madness Residency, Djerassi Artist-in-Residence Program 2010 – 2013Jacob K. Javits Fellow 2010 – present TED Fellow 2008 – present Artist-in-residence, Alivisatos Lab, University of California, Berkeley 2004Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude, Kenyon College 


2008Graduate Student Instructor, University of California, Berkeley
Course taught: Freehand Drawing (Environmental Design 11A)
2003 – 2004 Figure Drawing Teaching Assistant, Kenyon College 2008 – present Artist-in-residence, Alivisatos Lab, University of California, Berkeley 1999 – 2001Photography Teaching Assistant, Kenyon College 


2012Analogous Thinking in the Arts and Sciences public lecture series talk, Misadventures in Art and Nanoscience. University of Florida, Gainsville. (Chaired by sculptor Celeste Roberge and biologist Jamie Gillooly.) 2012StudioLab Workshop and critiques with graduate and undergraduate students,
University of Florida, Gainsville


2014San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, California 2013Leonardo public lecture series talk, Stanford University, Stanford, California 2012TEDxRainier, Seattle, Washington 2012TEDActive, Palm Springs, California 2012Salon Panorama, San Francisco, California 20103M, Minneapolis, Minnesota 2010The Exploratorium, San Francisco, California 2010The Case Foundation, Washington D.C. 2010TED, Long Beach, California  


2012Solo exhibition: Through the Looking Glass, The Leonardo, Salt Lake City, Utah 2010Solo exhibition: Scaled, Materials Research Society Conference, San Francisco, California 2009Solo exhibition: Drawings: Scaled, Mauve, Berkeley, California 2008Two-person exhibition: Traces, Untitled Gallery, Sausalito, California 2005Solo exhibition: Solidity Under Mind, LMan Gallery, Los Angeles, California  


2015Article Biennial 2015, Stavanger Kunstmuseum, Stavanger, Norway, (curated by Hege Tapio) 2015Observations and Collections, Colorado State University, (curated by Jennifer Kent) 2013MFA Exhibition, California College of the Arts, May 2013 (curated by Glen Helfand) 2012Emergence and Structure, Lafayette College, Easton, PA; MDC Freedom Tower Gallery, Miami, FL; University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, (curated by Daniel Hill and Ron Janowich) (catalogue essay by Jonah Lehrer) 2011New Insight 2011, Chicago, Illinois (curated by Susanne Ghez and Mia Ruyter) 2009Enormous Microscopic, Studio for Urban Projects, San Francisco, California, (curated by Phil Ross) 200830 under 30, Juried Exhibition, Varnish Gallery, San Francisco, California, (curated by Kerri Stephens, Jennifer Rogers, and Justin Giarla) 2007Tales in Red and Pink, Mina Dresden Gallery, San Francisco, California 2004Juried Exhibition, Chung-Cheng Gallery, St. John’s University, Jamaica, NY 2004Go Figure, Circle Gallery, Annapolis, Maryland 2003Great Lakes Emerging Artists Competition, SUNY, Fredonia, New York, (First place) 2003Hand Art, Penn Gallery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 2001Juried Exhibition, Penn Gallery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania  


The Leonardo, Salt Lake City, Utah


2013Chemical Society Reviews, 2013 (pending) 2012Nature, March 22, 2012 issue. (Cover image.) 2010Business Week, “Introducing TED Fellow: Kate Nichols” 2010BoingBoing, “TED Fellow using nanoparticle paint” 2010BoingBoing, “Body of Evidence” 2010Symmetry Magazine, “Color by Physics,” SLAC, Stanford University 2010Science on the Spot, Quest, KQED, San Francisco 2010Gallery Crawl, KQED, San Francisco