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The Nature Lab

In the early 20th century, RISD faculty member Edna Lawrence founded the Nature Lab to “open students’ eyes to the marvels of beauty in nature...of forms, space, color, texture, design and structure.”

Today, the Lab still offers unmediated access to authentic natural history specimens, while also fostering creative inquiry into biodesign, ecology, and the climate crisis. High-end microscopes, high-speed cameras, and other advanced imaging systems give members of the RISD community access to living and non-living specimens at multiple scales and provide an engaging platform for examining myriad connections between artistic and scientific study.

The Nature Lab furthers RISD’s hands-on approach to learning by enabling students to investigate ethical, sustainable modes of making informed by natural systems and designed to benefit the environment. Ultimately, it helps everyone who makes use of our resources better understand and articulate the role we play as humans in the ecosystem.

To make a reservation in any of our spaces, please use our Room Request Form.

Browse our Image Galleries on Flickr or our Digital Specimen Library Sketchfab remotely.

Edna W. Lawrence Rooms

The main room and adjoining spaces at the Nature Lab house the Edna Lawrence Natural History Collection, which dates back to before our founding in 1937. Partially displayed in the traditional cabinet-of-curiosities manner, the Natural History Collection has consistently captured students’ imaginations while continuing to grow and change over time. The space also houses a small collection of living plants and animals, and offers open seating for as many as 30 students.

Learn more about the Nature Lab's collections.

Microscopy and Advanced Imaging Lab

Funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) has helped RISD develop a micro-imaging lab unparalleled at other art and design schools. Students have access to research-grade stereo and compound microscopes, a scanning electron microscope that can magnify up to 350,000x actual size, a hi-resolution 3D scanner, and a host of other imaging technologies for capturing and investigating the fine-grain natural world. Likewise, the Lab offers an array of field equipment allowing students to collect and observe in nature.

Learn more about the Nature Lab's equipment.

Biodesign Makerspace

The Biodesign Makerspace was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), both to test the impacts of biophilic design in an educational setting, and to provide a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) focused makerspace for working with nature's technologies. The space brings patterns of nature into the built environment in ways expected to increase concentration, focus and productivity, as well as encourage a sense of well-being and a connection to the local ecosystem. Designed by RISD students in a Spring 2018 Interior Architecture studio, it was built by a cohort of RISD students over the summer of 2018.

Biodesign Makerspace

The Biodesign Makerspace (Room 11) is a shared resource on campus for students to learn about the design inspired by nature and experiment with Biomaterials. Workshops are hosted periodically to train students on biomaterials, lab safety, and room protocols. Students may work in the Biodesign Makerspace by appointment only after completing a workshop, and cannot check out equipment until completing a workshop.


Biomaterials Workshops are periodically held throughout the academic year, open to both RISD and Brown students + faculty. The workshops serve as an introduction to the field of bio-materials in art and design, centering the question of how we can begin to work with the natural environment, looking towards design processes and new materials that offer a more sustainable practice and future. Workshops include a presentation over the uses and application of biomaterials, lab protocol overview, and a bioplastics making session. No prior experience required. Please make your WORKSHOP appointments HERE (Must be signed in with RISD email).

Open Hours Work Sessions

After attending a workshop, students may make an appointment to come and use equipment to make biomaterials in the Biodesign Makerspace at designated hours during the week. Work sessions are 2 hours long. YOU MUST HAVE ATTENDED A WORKSHOP TO ATTEND A WORK SESSION. Please make your WORK SESSION appointments HERE.

Mondays: 9:30 am - 1 pm (by appointment only)

Tuesdays: 9:30 am - 4 pm (by appointment only)

Wednesdays: 1:30 am - 4 pm (by appointment only)

Thursdays: 9 pm - 4:30 pm (by appointment only)

Saturdays: 10 - 4 pm (first come first serve)

If you have any questions, please reach out to

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The RISD Nature Lab is an EPSCoR|C-AIM Core Research Facility supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement #OIA-1655221 and EAGER Grant Award #1723559. ​​​Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this site are those of the Nature Lab and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.​

© 2023 Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab at Rhode Island School of Design