Observing Nature: Edna Lawrence & Cabinet of Curiosities
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 biomimetics, biophilic design, ecology and climate change. 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.
The RISD Nature Lab is a EPSCoR|C-AIM Core Research Facility receiving support from National Science Foundation Grant #OIA-1655221 to the University of Rhode Island and EAGER Grant #1723559 to Rhode Island School of Design.
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.
Microscopy and GIS Lab
Funding from the NSF has helped RISD develop a micro-imaging lab unparalleled at other art and design schools. Students have access to stereomicroscopes, compound microscopes, handheld video microscopes for quick image capturing, an inverted compound microscope capable of fluoroscopy investigations and a scanning electron microscope that can magnify up to 45,000x actual size.
Two 150-gallon marine and fresh water aquarium units allow for close study of living vertebrate and invertebrate species collected from Narragansett Bay and other local waters. Students study and care for these living animals, and contribute to research on plankton, the propagation of marine organisms and the visualization of scientific data – all supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).