The Rhode Island School of Design (aka RISD) maintains a very special place to inspire their students to engage with our biological realm. The Nature Lab was created in 1937 by faculty member Edna Lawrence, for the purpose of “supporting hands-on creative investigation and research into the relationships inherent in the dynamic living world.”
This natural history collection is unlike any other in that students are encouraged to touch, study, and even borrow most of the objects for their own curiosity. Students use the lab to improve their still life and observational drawing skills as well as for the RISD science illustration program. However, creativity is encouraged and items at the nature lab have spawned some amazing artwork such as an interactive exhibit about the world of marine plankton.
Though the Nature Lab is intended for RISD students, it is open to the public by appointment. Items range from living specimens (fish, reptiles, insects and rodents) to fossils, dried fruit and seed pods, skeletons, seaweed pressings, and taxidermy. I also came across this great article that describes the history of the Nature Lab in greater detail.