For the Fall semester, we are open to RISD and Brown students and faculty. Due to RISD's Covid 19 protocols, we can allow only two visitors from the public at a time. Anyone on campus must wear a face coverings when indoor. RISD will follow general business guidelines from the State of Rhode Island, adding the additional measure of requiring face coverings. Our Fall 2021 hours are as follows
Natural history Collection: MONDAY & Wednesday
8:00 am – 10:00 pm
Tuesday, Thursday & Friday
8:00 am – 6:00 pm
9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sunday: closed
Microscopy Lab: MONDAY - FRIDAY
8:30 am – 4:30 pm
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Sunday: closed
RISD’s Waterman Building
13 Waterman Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02903

Jennifer Bissonnette

Interim Director
(401) 709-8548

Jen is an ecologist and marine scientist whose work engages techniques of transdisciplinary inquiry to merge natural sciences knowledge, techniques and methods of inquiry with art|design thinking and studio practices. With a BS in Biology from Eckerd College, and a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the College of William and Mary/Virginia Institute of Marine Science, her work focuses broadly on human-nature connections and systems thinking to help innovate design solutions to environmental and societal challenges. Her past experience includes working on Capitol Hill as a natural resources legislative assistant, coastal resource management work for the state of Virginia, and teaching college classes on a variety of topics including aquaponics, biomaterials, sustainable and regenerative design, biology, ecology and marine science. She is also responsible for overseeing the design, construction and programming of the Nature Lab's new BioDesign Makerspace.

Betsy Sara Ruppa

Lab Coordinator
(401) 277-4951

Betsy has a BFA in Painting and Drawing with a minor in Art History from the University of Wisconsin, and an MFA in Printmaking from Washington University in St Louis. She has a lifelong interest in animals and nature in general. Before coming to the Nature Lab, Betsy worked as a Master Printer for the Charles Bevan Press, was active at the Providence Animal Rescue League where she volunteered, served on the Executive Board and was Interim Executive Director. Her specific interests include human anatomy for artists, conchology and entomology.

Benedict Gagliardi

Staff Biologist
(401) 277-4852

Benedict is an enthusiastic observer of the smaller scale natural world, and greatly enjoys introducing others to the teeming diversity that abounds under a magnifying lens. He holds a BS in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and an MS in Entomology from the University of Connecticut. His research focused on the biosystematics of smoky moths (Zygaenidae) as well as false rarity in butterflies, but teaching biology and entomology has become a great passion. Benedict particularly enjoys the insights, ideas, and inspiration that can be drawn from nature when viewed from unique perspectives, in differing contexts, and with dissimilar biases. Outside of nature and science, Benedict is a performing folk musician and researches the traditional music of RI.

Georgia Rhodes

Visualization and Imaging Research Associate
(401) 277-4854

Georgia Rhodes is a Providence-based artist by way of the Midwest. She holds an MFA in Photography from the University of Georgia and a BFA in Art Education from Michigan State University. As part of RI C-AIM , her research seeks to understand an approach to making and knowing that utilizes both art+design practices and scientific methodology. As a fine artist, she is interested in observing the way people make images and record their world, and exploring the way human anxiety causes us to interact with the natural environment. Current Nature Lab projects include RI STAC grant Large Scale Projection Mapping as a Collaborative Platform for Communication and Discourse using Oceanographic Data and Physical Modeling of Narragansett Bay and co-developing Vis-A-Thon, a program designed to reimagine visualization as an evolving process of inquiry.

Felipe Leonardo Santos Shibuya

Hyundai Biological Programs Fellow

Felipe is a Brazilian ecologist and artist who decided to adventure around the world. His journey began when he completed his Ph.D. in Ecology and Nature Conservation at the Federal University of Paraná. He then decided to explore the visual aspects he had included in his research, beyond the purely scientific perspective. He also holds an M.F.A. in Studio Art from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he worked with pigmented bacteria, with the intention of understanding how the colors they synthesize could be communication signals for us humans. Being a scientist-artist enables Felipe to explore different forms of life, from bacteria to trees, using different methods, from microbiological culture to videos. However, all of his work involves aspects of his own identity, and he always highlights the visuality of nature.

Hope Leeson


Hope is a field botanist with 35 years of experience in southern New England, and a person whose feet and eyes have traveled over most of the state of Rhode Island. Time spent determining where the edge of a wetland lies, and searching forests for rare and unusual plants, have contributed to her intimate knowledge of Rhode Island’s natural areas and plant communities. Hope has worked for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, United States Fish and Wildlife Service RI Refuge Complex and several environmental engineering firms. Additionally, she has consulted for many of the state’s non- profit organizations and land trusts to document rare plant populations, native plant communities and invasive species, as well as providing public education on these topics. Since 2008, as the botanist at the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, she has applied her understanding of native plant communities and plant growth habits to the sustainable procurement of wild collected seed, native plant propagation, and consultation with land managers for successful habitat restoration through the Rhody Native initiative. Hope has been an adjunct faculty member at RISD since 2012, teaching on various botanical topics in the History, Philosophy and Social Sciences, and Landscape Architecture Departments. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking and growing soil and food in her permaculture-based garden.

Kalee Calhoun

Graduate Assistant
Ceramics 2022

Kalee Calhoun is a first year graduate candidate in the Ceramics Department. She was born and raised in North Carolina, where she acquired a deep appreciation for the sound of cicadas on summer nights and the word “y’all.” Kalee’s three great loves are art, literature, and nature. Her artwork explores not only the preservation of family stories, but also humans’ relationships to their own bodies within the natural world. When she’s not in the studio making new ceramic work, you can find her cozied up with a book in a hammock, propagating plants at home, or hiking in a state park.

Skylar Perez

Graduate Assistant
Architecture 2023

Skylar is an M.Arch student born and raised in Lubbock, Texas. He received his Bachelor's of Science in Architecture at Texas Tech University where his affinity and sensibilities towards design and visualization of the unseen took root. With aspirations of experiencing other environments, he is currently undergoing his graduate studies at RISD. Over the last few years, his curiosities have ranged from understanding systems of growth both on the microscopic and urban scale in hopes to developing an architecture that fosters the human’s relationship with their environments and the terrestrial players that facilitate them. At the Nature Lab, Skylar can be found peering into curious tiny pockets of reality under the microscopes, macropod, 3D scanners, or outside digging in dirt.

Aleece Mount

Graduate Assistant
Landscape Architecture 2023

Aleece is a second year MLA candidate. She received her Bachelor of Science in Public Health concentrating her research on understanding how policy, planning, and natural systems affects population health. Her graduate research focuses on understanding the principles behind natural systems and how to harness them in the design process to create resilient landscapes taking lessons from cultures past and present as inspiration. She is fascinated by the nested scales of form and function from the cellular to the landscape and hopes to bring biomimetic design to the landscape scale. At the Nature Lab, Aleece is assisting in gathering high speed footage of phenomena, animals, and insects to support the Hyundai Biological Program research studios.

Natalie Rizk

Graduate Assistant
Architecture 2022

Natalie is currently going into her third and final year of her Master of Architecture degree at RISD. She is originally from New York and went to school at New York University where she majored in Urban Planning and Architectural Studies with minors in Environmental Studies and Studio Art. Building off of her background in environmental studies, Natalie wants to engage in an architectural practice that restores and regenerates the human and ecological conditions in the built environment. Currently, she is exploring waste in architecture school and is teaching an architectural biomaterial course in Wintersession 2022. During her time at RISD, she has cultivated a passion for sustainable design with concentrations in social justice and interdisciplinary work. Outside of school, Natalie enjoys finding the best ice cream spots, listening to podcasts, and taking care of her many plants.

Jack Madden

Graduate Assistant
Digital + Media 2022

Jack Madden is a scientist, artist, and 2nd year grad student in Digital+Media. He received his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Cornell University where he studied the conditions necessary for life to thrive around other stars. He currently uses his scientific background to explore art in new ways by considering the existential consequences of scientific discovery. He uses data, code, and installations to visualize incomprehensible space, false complexity, and value sources. The Nature Lab is a place where Jack can learn how observation at extreme scales can change our perspective.

Spenser Atlas

Graduate Assistant
Furniture Design 2023

Spenser Atlas is a first year graduate student in the Furniture Design department. He received his B.S. in Environmental Studies at the University of California: Berkeley where he spent most of his time exploring the tangled relationship between the built environment and the non-human world. Spenser is inspired by biomorphic design, and is looking to discover eccentric textures and unique forms that exist at the microscopic scale and integrate them into the realm of Furniture Design. When he’s not working or spending time in the studio, he loves to roller-blade, ride his bike around Providence, or go on backpacking trips.

Cristiane Marie Caro

Graduate Assistant
TLAD 2022

Cristiane is a Dominican maker, scavenger, and collector of seeds. She received her BFA in Furniture Design while concentrating in Nature Culture and Sustainability Studies from the Rhode Island School of Design. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Art and Design Education from RISD as well. Cristiane's practice explores site-specific research through objects while working to reimagine experiential learning. While she was an undergraduate, Cristiane co-founded RISD's Regenerative Earth Collective, and along with it, established the Plot, an expansive garden resource for the RISD community.


People from various backgrounds come together at the Nature Lab through a multitude of events relating to the natural world.

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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.​

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