Collections

Deep observation of the disparate collections housed here — from nearly nano-scale to life-sized objects — provides the opportunity to touch and examine specimens from the natural world, discover the wonder and complexities of design in nature and inform your studio work through the processes, materials and organizing principles found in the living world. Selected specimens may also be borrowed for short periods of time — like checking a book out of the library.

Find the Room Request and Reservation Form here.

Edna W. Lawrence Natural History Collection

In the 1920s and ’30s, RISD faculty member Edna W. Lawrence (a 1920 graduate of the Painting program) would spend summers driving across the country collecting natural specimens for students to work with in her Nature Drawing class. In 1937 she founded the Nature Lab with an original collection of 1,286 objects (including shells, butterflies, minerals, skeletons, seed pods and taxidermy) that grew to more than 25,000 items by the time she retired 38 years later. Today the Natural History Collection includes nearly 80,000 individual specimens.

Tiny Town

Found in our Imaging Lab, this is a collection of small-scale specimens displayed in 2 x 2’’ clear acrylic boxes. Stereo microscopes offer the opportunity to view, draw, paint and/or digitally capture insects, corals and myriad other natural wonders magnified between 9x and 185x their actual size.

Micropolis

Discover hidden geometries in the silica structure of a diatom, marvel at the crochet-like patterns revealed in the cross-section of a plant cell and investigate the surprising architecture of a fungus spore. This eye-opening collection of hundreds of prepared glass slide mounts is best explored using our compound microscopes with a magnification capacity of 40 to 1000x actual size.

Nearly Nanoville

Our growing library of prepared samples for the scanning electron microscope includes both organic and inorganic materials. Capture micrographs and view unexpected topographies revealed in the surface of poppy seeds, sea urchin tests and amethyst crystals magnified up to 45,000x their actual size.

Arthur Loeb Design Science Teaching Collection

The pioneering work of Dutch scientist Arthur Loeb (1923–2002), who worked in Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University, established new ways of envisioning the structure of space at macro and molecular scales. The 3D objects and 2D tessellation prints in the collection he left to RISD illustrate core principles of pattern, symmetry and structure found both in nature and the built environment. This type of visual/spatial thinking is increasingly recognized as fundamental to innovation and scientific creativity, making the Nature Lab a perfect home for Loeb’s teaching collection.

Reference Library

Not everything you ever wanted to know lives online. Take some time to browse through our ecological design and natural science reference library to discover interesting and useful resources for the inquiry at hand – and to explore and appreciate the beauty of these books and brochures in their own right.

Live Plants + Animals

The Nature Lab is home to a variety of living plants and animals that includes small mammals, reptiles, and fishes, as well as arthropods, mollusks, jellyfishes and other invertebrates. Marine aquariums hold seasonal and permanent residents collected from Narragansett Bay. These organisms provide insight into biology, locomotion and behavior in ways that non-living specimens cannot and further represent the amazingly diverse strategies for survival found among individual species.

Equipment

The Nature Lab offers a range of specialized tools and equipment that support visual inquiry into biological and natural sciences.

Learn more about our equipment

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