Jennifer Bissonnette

Houghton P. Metcalf, Jr. (HD 91) 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.

Benedict Gagliardi

Staff Biologist & Collections Manager
(401) 277-4852

Benedict (he/him) approaches the intersection of art and science from the point of view of a naturalist–seeking understanding through patient observation and guided by persistent curiosity. Nearness to the natural world and ample time to explore and engage with it have always been essential to him. With a bachelors degree in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and a masters degree in Entomology from the University of Connecticut, insects are his foremost passion and destigmatizing their "creepy-crawly" reputation is a gradual and lifelong aim. Benedict relishes the opportunity not just to teach others about nature but to share in awe, fascination, and bewilderment with the process and products of evolution. He seeks and encourages the insights, ideas, and inspiration that can be drawn from nature when viewed from unique perspectives, in differing contexts, and with dissimilar biases. Outside the Lab, Benedict builds community around traditional folk music, organizing social music events and performing locally with his partner.

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.

Lea Fabre

Lab Coordinator
(401) 277-4951

Lea Fabre is a multi-dimensional artist, with their BFA in Sculpture from RISD. Their work often focuses on the environmental impacts of human behavior, in addition to diverting established waste streams. Ornithology and scientific illustration are of particular interest to them and frequently influence their artistic practice. Their knowledge of natural history and local ecology often brings them into close conversion with the Nature Lab collection. With a personal investment in community engagement with art, Lea has had work experience at Roger Williams Park Zoo and Waterfire. They find engaging people in the creation of art and the exploration of science to be both exciting and fulfilling. Their abiding passion for animals, and teaching others about them, has only grown as they care for the many animals in residence at the Nature Lab. Lea enjoys sharing their own sense of wonder with others, while helping students and visitors explore the collection and resources the Nature Lab has to offer. Outside of the Lab, Lea enjoys archery, singing with friends, and birdwatching.

Ava Handley

Lab Coordinator
(401) 277-4951

Ava’s lifelong practice lies at the nexus of art and natural science. A forever student of her surroundings, she works in a variety of mediums and subjects that comfortably include concept art, comics, ecological advocacy, taxidermy, skeleton cleaning and science visibility. Ava’s primary passions are exploring comparative anatomy, designing creatures, and the development of the study of natural history, guiding her to a BFA in Illustration at Rhode Island School of Design with a concentration in Nature, Culture and Sustainability Studies. She got her start at the Nature Lab as an undergraduate student, and has worked with a variety of organizations including Creature Conserve, Rhode Island Natural History Survey and the Phoenix Zoo. She is happiest researching intensely obscure topics, cooking foraged goods, watching horror movies and tending to the Nature Lab’s living residents and her personal small menagerie at home.

Jessica Smith

Hyundai Motor Group Biological Programs Fellow

Jessica is a New England transplant by way of North Carolina. With a bachelor's degree in Environmental Science from UNC Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute, Jess is interested in how biodesign and biomaterials can inform more sustainable manufacturing futures. Beyond the Nature Lab, Jessica creates 3D printed ceramic objects and shares opportunities in the biodesign space through her site Biodesign Jobs.

Sasha Wiseman

Operations & Engagement Coordinator

Sasha Wiseman was born and raised in Providence by parents who met as RISD students in the 1960s. She has recently returned to the city after earning a BA in Literature from Bennington College and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Her fiction, poetry, and literary criticism have appeared in publications such as Story, The Southampton Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She lives with her husband, their dog, and dozens of spider plants in the West End neighborhood of Providence.

Betsy Sara Ruppa

Lab Coordinator (on-call)

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.

Paulina Bereza

Biomaterials Graduate Assistant

Paulina Bereza (she/her) is an artist and designer specializing in material innovation. Her work focuses on the inherent qualities of matter, bringing together weaving crafts, biomaterials and new technologies in textiles. With sustainability as the underlying thread connecting her interests, Paulina graduated with a BFA in Fibres and Material practices from Concordia University and is currently pursuing her MFA in Textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design. She is presently a Research Fellow in Society and Culture with the Fonds de Recherche du Québec, her past experiences include assisting the fibres@MIT research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Material Innovation on the Nike Explore Team. In her spare time, Paulina loves to forage for wild flowers, collect antique textiles and find inspiration through music.

Tori Hong

Biomaterials Graduate Assistant

Tori Hong (she/they) is a graduate student in Illustration building relationships with the world around her through art. Before coming into their illustration practice, Tori received a BA in Social Justice, Leadership, and Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. Community organizing led to community gardens and community art. Tori's current research interests include natural materials, folk art traditions, and personal mythology. In Providence they're foraging for natural dyes, pigments, inks and anything edible!

Sara Inacio

Graduate Assistant

Sara Inácio (they/them) is a printmaker based in Providence, RI. Originally from Brazil, Sara immigrated to the U.S. and has spent most of their life in New England. They received a BFA in Printmaking with a minor in Public Engagement from Maine College of Art in 2017, and has since continued to build their studio and collaborative practice, as well as worked in various arts-based organizations before coming to RISD for their MFA. Sara’s work focuses on growth and persistence through time and space not made for one’s survival. They look to organisms, ecosystems and communities that adapt and thrive in spite of the human-built environments and societal structures pushing against their existence. Relying on multi-species investigations of urban wildlife, their homemaking and passing, Sara’s work draws connections between our complex coexistence, to the ever changing experience of queerness, and our parallel resilient and precarious survival.

Jais Taylor

Biomaterials Graduate Assistant
Landscape Architecture

Jais Taylor (they/them) is a horticulturist, educator, and anthropologist. They are drawn to how communities occupy space and how design functions as organism. Jais has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from Wellesley College and is currently pursuing their Master of Landscape Architecture degree at the Rhode Island School of Design. In their free time, Jais enjoys making comics and zines.

Chloe Kahn

Graduate Assistant
Landscape Architecture

Chloe is an MLA student from Atlanta, GA. She has a bachelor's degree in Geology from Macalester College in Minnesota. While there, she studied the ecological effects seen on fossils at the micro scale. She loves that by studying earth's history, we begin to uncover patterns and are able to understand more about its future. Chloe has come to RISD with a passion for communicating science with the broader public. The natural sciences spark such a curiosity in everything she does and she strives to share that by building the connection between artistic and scientific study.

Vija Lietuvninkas

Graduate Assistant
Industrial Design

Vija Lietuvninkas (she/her) is a graduate student in Industrial Design. Before coming to RISD, Vija received a BA in Anthropology and Sociology from Swarthmore College and later spent several years working in outdoor mental health programs in Utah. Currently her interests include community-building, participatory art, play, storytelling, and exploring how engaging with physical objects helps people process information. Vija enjoys working with natural and foraged materials and is drawn to folk arts and crafts like basket weaving and spoon carving. Outside of school, Vija tries to spend as much time as possible outside with her dog Kai who accompanies her while she forages for wild mushrooms, rides her mountain bike, or swims in various bodies of water.

Tanmayee Moré

Graduate Assistant
Landscape Architecture

Tanmayee wandered through industrial design, marine conservation, biodesign, and materials science before arriving at RISD. Biomineralization has been the keystone of her design-science research, and its role in forming the continuum between the oceans, atmosphere and the Earth’s crust is what inspired her to pursue grad school in Landscape Architecture. She loves geeking out about all things structural design, and capturing the “endless forms most beautiful” in Nature. Her happiest hours outside of work are spent drumming or being out on the water.

Vir Joseph Naidu

Graduate Assistant
Industrial Design

Vir Joseph Naidu (he/they) is an Industrial Designer specialising in product design. Originally from Bangalore, India - he is a speculative design and robotics enthusiast and has made sustainability one of his goals. Vir received his Bachelor of Design in Industrial Art and Design Practices from Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. He is the creative director and partner at Three Eleven, a sustainable clothing brand that uses a made-to-order model to reduce textile wastage.
Vir is passionate about bridging the gap between robotics and human beings, creating a symbiotic connection between them by utilising nature.

Maedeh Tafvizi

Biomaterials Graduate Assistant
Ceramic Arts

Georgia Oldham

Communications Graduate Assistant

Georgia Oldham (she/her) is an illustrator, designer, and occasional animator from Austin, TX. Her work often tells stories about people and the world around them. Before coming to RISD she taught high school art & design in Texas. Georgia enjoys long walks and eating dessert.

Elise Williams

Graduate Assistant

Elise Mollie Williams (she/her) is a graduate student in Sculpture, practicing mixed media visual artist, and performance artist from North Carolina. After studying biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Elise went on to pursue her passion for visual art, obtaining a BFA in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2022. Although her interests are varied, Elise remains primarily concerned with the organic, the automatic, and the visceral. Through creating intricate emotionally-charged spaces and forms inspired by her background in biology, anatomy, microbiology, etc., the artist is able to interrogate and examine both the biological and the intangible structures many of us exist within. Sculpture, painting, illustration, and performance/video works are all integral aspects of her practice, each in direct dialogue with and informing the other.


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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