Jennifer Bissonnette

Interim Director
(401) 709-8548

Jen can assist with the following remote services:

  • Incorporating sustainability and ecosystem thinking into your project
  • Biomaterials advice
  • Navigating scientific information as it applies to your work

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 can assist with the following remote services:

  • Information about natural history specimens (especially those from our collection)
  • Purchasing information if you’re interested in buying your own specimens
  • Providing updates on our Nature Lab animal residents
  • Information about collection management and specimen preparation
  • Historical information about the Nature Lab and its founder Edna Lawrence
  • Identifying shells, flowers, seeds, and other types of specimens
  • Guidance on plant propagation and care; guidance on animal care
  • Information about working as an undergraduate student monitor at the Nature Lab

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

Ben can assist with the following remote services:

  • 3D scans of available Nature Lab specimens and other nature-related subject matter
    —High resolution scans of smaller subjects using the Artec Spider
    Lower resolution, larger subjects using iPad Structure Sensor
  • Photography of available Nature Lab specimens and other nature-related subject matter
    —High resolution/low magnification photographs using the Macropod
    10-50X magnified images using Stereomicroscope
    High resolution images of relatively 2D subject matter using Epson flatbed scanner
  • High speed (slomo) videos of available subject matter using the Edgertronic camera
  • Advice, consultation, and conversation on various topics related to natural history, ecology, biology, microscopy, and especially entomology (insects)
  • Identifying insects and other arthropods and animals

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 his greatest 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 currently researching the traditional music of RI.

Georgia Rhodes

Visualization and Imaging Research Associate
(401) 277-4854

Georgia can assist with the following remote services:

  • Any advice or questions concerning Nature Lab technology + equipment
  • Discussing advanced imaging techniques
  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS) at a limited capacity
  • 3D construction of natural materials from macro to micro

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.

Dora Mugerwa

Operations and Engagement Coordinator
(401) 709-8447

As an individual interested to multiple disciplines, Dora enjoys pursuing different ways of thinking, learning, and making. She graduated from the Brown|RISD Dual Degree Program in 2015, where she studied Furniture Design at RISD and Environmental Science at Brown University. Her pursuits are drawn from her relation to the human body and nature as her sense of home. She works to capture these in her abstract vision of human and environmental conditions. She enjoys investigating and researching our existence scientifically and aesthetically, hoping to bridge the gap in our perceived differences. Through 2D and 3D material exploration, she also aims to understand and express how humans can coexist and live within the natural systems in our environments.

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.

Nicola DiFusco

Graduate Assistant
Digital+Media 2021

Nicola DiFusco graduated from Bryant University in 2019, holding a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, English & Cultural Studies, and Marketing. Nicola arrived at Rhode Island School of Design with a broad professional background, including work in marketing analytics, business-to-business luxury goods sales, team and project management, as well as college sports broadcasting. Through earning his Master of Fine Arts degree in Digital + Media, Nicola's thesis-in-progress navigates class, commerce and the body through exploring digital interfaces, augmented reality, and the blurring between simulation and reality. At the Nature Lab, Nicola contributes to the digitized library of the Lab's specimens through creating high-resolution 3D & 2D models. From obsessively watching Steve Irwin as a child to high school biology and entomology courses, Nicola has always been interested in the lessons and inspirations the natural world holds.

Kat Jarvinen

Graduate Assistant
Digital+Media 2021

Kat Jarvinen is an MFA candidate in the Digital + Media department. Her current research explores the electronic waste stream and the environmental impacts of digital technologies. Using experimental and regenerative approaches to video, sound, and recycled objects, Kat creates installations that illuminate connections between mineral, spiritual, and digital domains. At the Nature Lab, Kat is assisting in digitizing the natural history collection through high resolution imaging and 3D scanning. She is especially inspired by the Nature Lab’s collection of rocks & minerals.

Louis Rakovich

Graduate Assistant
Graphic Design 2022

Louis Rakovich is an interdisciplinary designer, photographer and writer. He grew up in Israel, lived in New York, and is currently attending RISD as an MFA candidate in the Graphic Design program. He’s interested in creating work that is informed by nature as well as informs our understanding of it and ourselves, and is passionate about interactive experiences, speculative design, and design as storytelling. In his photography and writing he enjoys exploring juxtapositions – new and old, human and animal, living and dead. At the Nature Lab, he’s helping digitize the Lab’s collection of specimens and envision an immersive online environment across different platforms for remote use during the COVID-19 pandemic, using imagery techniques such as 3D scanning, macro photography, and microscopy. In his free time he likes hiking, watching David Lynch films, and listening to hard rock.

Haley MacKeil

Graduate Assistant
Printmaking 2021

Haley MacKeil is a second year graduate candidate in the Printmaking Department. She received her BA in Biology and Visual Arts from Bowdoin College. Drawn to the intersections of the arts and sciences, her work sheds light on visceral experiences and the varied narratives they tell. The iterative capacities of print communicate her desire to unravel the many layers of complex systems in nature and echo the curiosity of humans in their environment. Outside of the studio, she frequents the Mars-like landscape of Judith Point and the East End Bike Path. At the Nature Lab, Haley can be found deep diving at the stereoscope, macropod or 3D scanner and imagining simultaneously microscopic and macroscopic worlds.


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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