Here be dragons: RISD’s Nature Lab

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(Pictures taken in RISD’s Nature Lab)

Here’s a riddle for you: where can you find a dragon, a preserved dog fetus, and a whale vertebra, all in one place? The answer is 13 Waterman St, a spot that is incredibly close to Brown’s campus and is home to RISD’s Nature Lab. Having heard of it last summer, I made the not-so-long trek over to the building last Thursday, unsure of what to expect; would I find one small room with a couple of fish tanks?

This was most certainly NOT the case.

Walking into the main room of the Nature Lab can be overwhelming. Not because it is disorganized or crowded, but because there is so much to explore. Cabinets and drawers line the walls, filled with specimens of all kinds, from butterflies to minerals. There are all types of plants, and multiple tanks and cages, homes to turtles and other living animals. Larger preserved animals occupy space outside the cabinets: you might notice a bear, a deer, or the puffer fish hanging from the ceiling.

What’s really cool is that you can take out, handle, and study most of these specimens. Basically, you feel like a kid in a candy shop and keep asking, “What’s that? And that??!” At least that’s what I did, to some extraordinarily helpful Nature Lab staff, including Lab Coordinator Betsy Ruppa, who answered many of my questions about what the different specimens were.

Ruppa said the facility ends up functioning as a library. Students often use the Nature Lab as a resource for various projects and are even allowed to check out many of the objects. Entire classes, many from RISD but also other schools, will come in to use the space. The lab additionally helps students out in a myriad of ways beyond providing them with draw-able subjects. Students of everything from apparel to architecture come in to investigate the forms, shapes and textures of natural objects. Ruppa explained that students use the lab to study “anything that relates to nature and how nature solves its problems of design.” For example, she explained that an architecture student might want to examine the structure of a bird’s nest. Clothing designers might need inspiration for prints. The way bones connect can give insight into how hinges work; the way certain insects’ wings unfurl and then return to their resting position mirrors the way the top to a convertible opens and closes.

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Fall foliage 2014: What’s hot, what’s not

Fall in New England is a wonderful season. It brings crisp days, fresh apples, and pumpkin-flavored everything. But most importantly, the leaves are changing color. Fall just isn’t fall without trees bursting into fiery pigments as if trying to outdo each other in exuberance before winter repaints the world with its icy-grey palette. Let’s take a walk around campus to see what’s trending in arboreal fashion this year.

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What you see here is the classic yellow. Though this tree is not being as adventurous as it could be, it certainly gets credit for consistency. Verdict: Warm. I don’t feel like your heart is really in it.

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Trick or (spicy orange) treat! This tree is doing more than just showing off how bright it can be. That sizzling orange just screams Halloween. Trees love to dress up! Verdict: Hotter than toasted pumpkin seeds.

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Time-waster of the day: November 9, 2010

Yeah, you wish you heard the sound of the waves

Ever been stuck in the draining silence of the Rock stacks where you’d much rather hear the peaceful lull of beach waves? Prefer to listen to the sounds of creeks or forest birds instead of your roommate’s snoring every night?

Nature Sounds let’s you compose your own ambient melody, be it for reading, sleeping, or meditating, for free. Some of our favorite sounds: cat purr, fireplace, tibetan bowl…and “brown” noise? What it’s a sound of and why it’s called “brown” remains a mystery.