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.

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.

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.

Anna Van Ness

Administrative Assistant
(401) 277-4875

Anna Van Ness graduated from RISD in 2022 with a BFA in Jewelry + Metalsmithing and a concentration in Nature, Culture, and Sustainability Studies. Anna lives in Providence with her fiancé, 2 cats, a ball python, 4 fish, and many plants. At the Nature Lab, you can find her working on communications, event planning, and making glass boxes. In her spare time, she will most likely be in the woods.

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.

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.

Diana Sánchez Barrios

Graduate Assistant
Digital + Media

Diana Sánchez Barrios is a poet, media artist and participatory designer from Colombia. She works across disciplines and media exploring human practices and values that shape design and our concepts of what is technology, beauty, nature, and affection. Interested in science and technology studies she aims to integrate care and feminist perspective in her projects mediated by technology and participatory research. Currently interested in biopolitics, memory and affection and the future of human labor and nature in the era of automation and data centers. She is currently a graduate student MFA in Digital and Media and Society of Presidential Fellow at RISD.

Naomi Canino

Graduate Assistant
Landscape Architecture

Naomi is a second year Master’s of Landscape Architecture graduate student. Currently, she is pushing her work to become a collaboration between Landscape Architecture and Psychology. She is interested in the ways that designing through biomimicry and environmental psychology’s methodology can affect the mental health of those within a curated space. Biomaterials seem like a functional endeavor to explore in order to bridge the gap in her thinking. She is curious as to how we, as designers, can actively push for the replacement of traditional materials as foundational pieces to biomaterials that can be worked back into the cycle as a way of designing with a system in mind.

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.

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.

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.

Jacob Sussman

Graduate Assistant

Jacob Sussman is a current 2nd year Ceramic Masters Candidate at Rhode Island School of Design. He has a passion for ceramic material sciences, sustainable material development, and 3D printing technologies. He is a nationally exhibited artist and participated in the 2022 Hyundai X RISD Research Collaborative. He has formulated a variety of different bio-based materials including one usable in 3D printing and is investigating the replacement of nonrenewable minerals used in current industries. He strives to push the boundaries of material fields by focusing on sustainability through reducing energy consumption, renewable material sourcing, and practical biomaterial development.


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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