TED Fellows » TED Fellows Network » Kate Nichols

Kate Nichols


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Kate Nichols

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The Alivisatos and Arkin Labs at UC Berkeley, California College of the Arts


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Through the Looking Glass at The Leonardo

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Kate Nichols - Science for Art, Art for Science.mov

TEDFellow 2010 and artist-in-residence Kate Nichols merges the world of art and nanotechnology by using nano-particles to create structural color and breathtaking art.

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Art and Light Through the Lens of Ambivalence: Kate Nichols at TEDxRainier

TED Fellow Kate Nichols uses physics, medieval artifacts, and her own artwork to initiate viewers into ambivalence—the ability to be two contradictory things strongly and simultaneously. And what do we see through the lens of ambivalence? We see light as both particle and wave, photons that are at once here and there, and nanoparticle-art that transmits yellow light and reflects blue. We also see our own desire to resolve ambivalence, to choose one state over another. Kate proposes that art can help us develop the capacity to hold multiple, contradictory things and, in this way, allows us to enter into the mysteries of our time. Kate's perspective is unique, to say the least. Her own understanding of light, color, and art has been shaped by her training in 15th century painting techniques and by her experience as artist-in-residence at the Alivisatos Lab, a nanoscience lab at UC Berkeley. This talk was given at TEDxRainier in Seattle on November 10, 2012. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

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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. 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, 3M corporate headquarters, TED Active, TEDxRainier, and the University of Florida. She lives in San Francisco.

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Vital Stats

Fellows Class
Living in
San Francisco, United States
Working in
San Francisco, United States
Born in
Fort Wayne, United States



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