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.

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 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.

Learn more about the Nature Lab's equipment.

Biodesign Makerspace

This space is for the teaching about, fabrication of, and experimentation with biomaterials: materials made from living or once living tissues. Because biomaterial study is so new and still considered a niche by most, the role of the Nature Lab’s Biodesign Maker Space is more than a studio for students to build. It also functions as an ambassador for the potential of biomaterials. The room showcases practical examples of the materials used in fabrication, and also shows off their wondrous ability to embellish and liven a space. The design uses as many natural, recyclable, and sustainably sourced materials as possible. They appear in places both familiar like the local responsibly forested wood tabletops, and unusual like the white foamy fungus-based laminate on the shelves.

Learn more about research at the Nature Lab.

Collections and equipment
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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.​

© 2018 Rhode Island School of Design Nature Lab