I am a scientist interested in the physics of living tissues and soft matter. Geometry and topology often provide a powerful lens for understanding the mechanisms governing material behavior. I apply this lens to understand the morphogenesis of living matter as well as the behavior of soft materials — such as thin elastic sheets, cytoskeletal gels, and mechanical metamaterials. I am currently most interested in how biology uses physics to sculpt complex forms during morphogenesis, combining approaches from physics, computer science, and cellular/molecular biology.

I am currently a Helen Hay Whitney Foundation fellow at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara, where I focus on biological systems. My PhD work at the University of Chicago revealed that amorphous structures can support topologically insulating phases of matter, explored how curvature controls the energetics and paths of cracks in thin sheets, explained fracture patterns in nanoparticle sheets stamped on corrugated substrates, and related findings. In my undergraduate years, I studied how galactic-scale flows affect the evolution of dwarf galaxies.



Recent awards

Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship (2020-present)
Springer Thesis Award (2019)
Otis Williams Postdoctoral Fellowship (2019-2020)
Yodh Prize in experimental physics (2017)
Wentzel Teaching Prize from University of Chicago (2013)
Other graduate fellowships (2012-2016)

Selected Publications

N. P. Mitchell, D. J. Cislo, S. Shankar, Y. Lin, B. I. Shraiman, S. J. Streichan, “Visceral organ morphogenesis via calcium-patterned muscle contractions.” eLife 11:e77355 (2022) [link]
N. P. Mitchell, L. M. Nash, D. Hexner, A. M. Turner, W. T. M. Irvine. “Amorphous topological insulators constructed from random point sets.” Nature Physics 14380–385 (2018) [link]
N. P. Mitchell, V. Koning, V. Vitelli, W. T. M. Irvine, “Fracture in sheets draped on curved surfaces.” Nature Materials 16, 89-93 (2017) [link]
N. P. Mitchell, R. Carey, J. Hannah, Y. Wang, M. Cortes, S. McBride, H. Jaeger. “Conforming nanoparticle sheets to surfaces with Gaussian curvature.” Soft Matter, 14, 9107 – 9117 (2018) [link]
N. P. Mitchell, L. M. Nash, W. T. M. Irvine. “Realization of a topological phase transition in gyroscopic lattices.” Physical Review B 97, 100302(R) (2018) [link]