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 (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.

Benedict Gagliardi

Staff Biologist & Collections Manager
(401) 277-4852

Benedict 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. Since childhood, nearness to the natural world and ample time to explore it have 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 his awe, fascination, and bewilderment with the process and products of evolution. He enjoys 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 of nature and science, Benedict is a performing folk musician and researches traditional music in 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.

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.

Arvind Bhallamudi

Graduate Assistant

Arvind is a design engineer and first-year graduate student in Industrial Design. He has a background in mechanical engineering and has previously worked on developing biomedical products, smart devices, 3D printers, website interfaces and educational programs. He is currently investigating affordable and systematic solutions to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. At the Nature Lab, Arvind is researching biomaterial capabilities for additive manufacturing and health care applications. When he's not designing, you'll find Arvind taking inspiration from nature, photographing wildlife and landscapes, and bringing in samples to visualize under microscopes, macropods and 3D scanners in the lab.

Berett Wilber

Grad Assistant
GD 2024

Berett was born and raised in a commercial fishing family in Sitka, Alaska. She is a grad student in graphic design who works on Nature Lab communications. Before coming to RISD, she worked as a public radio reporter and served as a legislative aide. She is long-time enthusiast of plants and animals thanks to a childhood spent in the Tongass National Forest on Tlingit aanÍ. She is an avid photographer, reader and writer.


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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