Mathematical Model of Nantucket’s Bay Scallop Population Published

After a decade of work, Dr. Valerie Hall, a research associate with the Maria Mitchell Association, has produced a mathematical model that helps fishery managers and fisherman understand how the Nantucket bay scallop population survives environmental variation in Nantucket’s waters.  Her work was published in the online journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries on October 2, 2015.  David Gagnon, Executive Director of the Maria Mitchell Association, stated “Dr. Hall’s work is an excellent example of the benefits of collaborating and supporting our research associates to produce pier reviewed publications that are timely and critically important to the people of Nantucket and the environment.  We look forward to future research findings as well.” 

Previously thought to spawn only once, Nantucket bay scallops often spawn again in late summer or fall.  According to Dr. Hall, the second spawn is a bet-hedging strategy that helps the population survive changes in the environment.  If the first spawn fails or is very weak, scallops from the second spawn (“nubs”) help bridge the population gap in the following years.  This work will help inform regulation decisions to keep the bay scallop fishery as healthy as possible into the future.  Currently, Dr. Hall is working on a project to gather more information on nub scallops and their importance to the fishery.

“My research on the Nantucket bay scallop would not have been possible without the support of the Maria Mitchell Association, in particular, the guidance and encouragement of Bob Kennedy, Peter Boyce, and Andrew McKenna-Foster” said Dr. Hall.  

Read the article.

Collaborative Effort Produces a Ten Year Summary of Nantucket Harbor Research

harbor research coverThe Maria Mitchell Association, in collaboration with the Nantucket Land Council and the Nantucket Shellfish Association, has produced a twenty-page book highlighting a decade of research focused on Nantucket Harbor. Nantucket Harbor Research: A Ten Year Summary is a synopsis of research projects conducted by island conservation groups ranging from horseshoe crab populations to shell recycling to salt marsh restoration. The text is easy to read and accompanied by photos and graphs. Additional contributors to the book include the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, the Nantucket Land Bank, the Town of Nantucket and the University of Massachusetts Nantucket Field Station.

The publication effort was led by the Maria Mitchell Association with the project funded by money raised from the 2013 Nantucket Paddle Battle and funding from the Nantucket Shellfish Association to print 6,000 copies. The book was designed by the Development and Communication Department at the Maria Mitchell Association. The publication will be given away free of charge.

Nantucket Harbor Research: A Ten Year Summary is divided into four sections and includes research on harbor ecology, shellfish, conservation, and management. “There has been so much research conducted in Nantucket’s harbors over the years that it is difficult to keep track of it all. We wanted a way to communicate all of this great work to the general public,” says Andrew McKenna-Foster, Director of Natural Science from the Maria Mitchell Association. “We hope that as people become more aware of harbor research, they will become more involved in actively protecting this great resource,” he adds.

The Maria Mitchell Association is named after America’s first female astronomer, Maria Mitchell. She is known for discovering a comet over Nantucket in October 1847. She went on to become the first professor at Vassar College. The Maria Mitchell Association was formed in 1902 to preserve her legacy of scientific achievement and to carry on her passion for hands-on learning. Today, the Maria Mitchell Association operates two observatories (Loines and the Maria Mitchell Observatory), as well as the MMA Aquarium, the Natural Science Museum, and the birthplace of Maria Mitchell.

Interior Work Is Starting to Begin at MMA Library/EcologyLab

Wing Plaster and Tiles

The photograph you see here is the interior south wall of the MMA Library/EcologyLab.  The patchwork you see is the terracotta tiles that make up the supporting walls of the building – there is about an inch of stucco on the exterior and a half an inch of lime plaster on the inside walls and that’s it.   Those ridges you see are actually the terracotta tiles which make up the structural walls of the building.  When built in the early 1930s, about three coats of a lime plaster were placed on the terracotta and then tempera paint which is the more yellow looking finish you see in areas where the plaster did not fail.  If not for some leaks about a decade or more ago, the plaster would not have failed because everywhere else in the Wing the plaster is in excellent condition – you can’t beat lime plaster!

But due to the damage from the leaks, the lime plaster had blistered and pulled from the terracotta so we called in Pen Austin, an island mason who specializes in traditional methods of mortar, paint finishes, and plaster and who has completed work on the Mitchell House.  Her work on the Science Library is partially Community Preservation Act funded – it became a bigger project because of the work that was completed on the outside of the building.  We had the right woman – and her team – on the job and they completed the plaster work in about a week.  It will take about a month for the lime plaster to cure and then painters can paint the walls at a later date – once all the work is completed on the Library/EcolgyLab interior.


A Special Thanks to Our Community Service Campers and Partners!

GreenGuardians_2This summer, in addition to our traditional Discovery Camp and Naturalist Leadership Program options, MMA also offered community service camps for 10 – 12 year olds and 13 – 16 year olds.  In these camps, participants had the opportunity to gain service hours needed for school, scout, and honor society requirements while exploring Nantucket and learning about the importance of land conservation.  Campers spentan hour or two in the morning completing a community service project and then would enjoy fun summer activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, geocaching, and more in the afternoons. 

For many years, our campers have enjoyed exploring the diverse properties of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation (NCF) and the Nantucket Islands Land Bank (NILB) and so this was an opportunity for us to give back a little and provide opportunities for our campers to learn more about our partners as well.  We were able to launch this program with the help and support of NCF and NILB and for that we are most grateful.  As it turned out, we were able to help a number of other community partners including the Nantucket Food Pantry, Safe Harbor for Animals, the Nantucket Community Garden, and the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church.  I am so proud of all of our instructors and campers and the inspiring projects they completed throughout the summer which include:

Trail maintenance
Invasive species removal
Shorebird enclosure removal
Beach Clean-ups

Beach clean-ups
Roadside litter removal

Community Garden/Food Pantry
Weeded two garden plots
Harvested and delivered vegetables for the Food Pantry

UU Church
Made up-cycled bags from old t-shirts as part of their program to help the food pantry

Safe Harbor for Animals
Painted canvasses for their art show to educate the community about the humane treatment of animals

To raise awareness about this effort, with help from the MMA’s Aquarium staff, campers also began building a large shark with scales made from cans collected around Nantucket.  After this art project is completed in 2016, it will become an exhibit at the MMA  Aquarium and there is still time for you or your child to be a part of it.  We hope you will join us next summer as we continue to pay it forward in the Nantucket community.  

What a Great Summer Season!

water safteyIt is that time of year again. The summer madness is coming to an end and our little island is getting ready for a much quieter fall.  The Maria Mitchell Association has especially had a wonderful summer season.  We brought Dogfish sharks to the Aquarium, added extra camp programs, introduced a new executive director, introduced the Speaker Series every week in August and September, completed the conservation of the Library exterior, hosted the Nantucket Red-Tie Soirée, and overall promoted the legacy of Maria Mitchell through exploration, education, and enjoyment of Nantucket.  We have definitely been busy! 

None of our growth or progress would be possible if it were not for our amazing interns.  After receiving hundreds of applications for the varied internship positions, we accepted thirty-two interns, including the REU Astronomy students, and welcomed them to Nantucket.  You might have seen them helping to run our museums, leading camp programs, providing you with a tour of the night sky, or out in the field collecting data. 

We would like to take this time to thank: Allie Bono, Christopher Coomey, Jordan McHugh, Julia Texiera, Tali Brennan, Sacha Pfevfer, Molly McDermott, Erik Lokensgard, Allison Gayo, Catherine Bradley, Brian Chesnut, Erin Downing, Ali Swan, Ben Loiselle, Caprice Phillips, Lily Evanston, Elisabeth Sorrows, Kim Mulvehill, Andrew Baik, Patrick Drew, John Weaver, Madison Smith, Missy McIntosh, Natalie Frendberg, Rayna Rampalli, Brendon Donoghue, Christine Seibert, Issac Hersh, Lauren O’Brien, Ken McCormack, Seth Englebourg, and Lizzie Apala. We would not have been able to make this summer at the MMA so special without them.

Learn how you can become a summer intern with us here.

Maria Mitchell Association Completes Exterior Conservation of Former Science Library

Space to be converted to new Ecology Lab

Nantucket, MA The Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) has completed the conservation of the exterior of the Science Library  paving the way for construction of the new, year-round Ecology Lab.  The nearly $250,000 conservation effort was funded by a grant from the Nantucket Community Preservation Act.

The work included significant repairs to the roof and restoring it to its original 1933 condition. Engineer and masons worked to design and replace the steel lintels and repair the major cracks that undermined the 1930s stucco addition’s integrity.  The entire building was painted and portions of the structure were re-shingled. Due to the historical significance of the building which dates back to 1830, specialized craftsmen were needed to make the repairs.

With exterior work complete, the Maria Mitchell Association will start on the inside to convert the space to a year-round, Ecology Lab, the first of its kind on Nantucket.  The three quarter million dollar project will provide indoor classroom space to study natural sciences for students and citizen scientists.  Partial funding for the lab was provided by the Nantucket Golf Foundation, the Tupancy-Harris Foundation and individual donors.

The MMA Science Library served the MMA from 1920 through 2005 when it was closed due to a decrease in circulation and use.  The shingled portion was originally William Mitchell’s – father of Maria Mitchell – Schoolhouse in the 1830s and was moved to Vestal Street by the next owner.  It once served as the West Introductory School for the Town.  Once the MMA filled it to capacity with its growing collection of natural science, astronomy, and Nantucket related books, the need for more room arose and the stucco Wing was added in 1933.  Designed by island architect Alfred Shurrocks and built using the Natco System of terracotta tiles, the Wing as it is referred to, came to house the Special Collections, Maria Mitchell’s personal library and papers, the Mitchell family’s books and papers, and the MMA’s institutional archives in a fireproof space.

The Maria Mitchell Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of Maria Mitchell, America’s first women astronomer.  MMA provides hands-on learning science education to the children and citizen scientists of Nantucket.  It operates the Loines Observatory, the Maria Mitchell Observatory, the Natural Museum at Hinchman House and the Maria Mitchell Association Aquarium.  Additionally, it preserves the historic birthplace of Maria Mitchell and her historic documents and family artifacts. 

 Note:  Photography is available by calling Lauren Berlin at the Maria Mitchell Association at 508-228-9198 or by email at


Maria Mitchell Association Recognized by Cape Cod Life Publications’

23rd Annual Best of the Cape & Islands Readers’ Choice Awards

Nantucket, MA- On May 18, 2015, the Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) was named the “Silver Winner in Family Activity” by Cape Cod Life Publications.  Dedicated readers of Cape Cod Life magazine voted for their favorite places on the Cape and Islands.  The MMA offers a unique selection of family programs for children of all ages.  Whether it is spending a morning on the beach collecting and identifying creatures from Nantucket’s waters or looking thorough our 24-inch research telescope, there is something at the MMA for everyone. 

“It is so great to be recognized by Cape Cod Life Magazine for the work we do to educate students on Nantucket,” says David Gagnon, Executive Director of the Maria Mitchell Association. “We strive to bring hands-on science education programs that are fun and educational for children and families. We put a lot of effort into making them great and it so nice to be recognized for that effort,” he adds.

Founded in 1902, the MMA is a private non-profit organization whose mission is the promotion of the legacy of Maria Mitchell and exploration, education and enjoyment of Nantucket’s land, waters, and skies beyond. The MMA operates two observatories, a natural science museum, an aquarium, and preserves the historic birthplace of Maria Mitchell. 

Science In Action- See for yourself

The Natural Science Museum was redesigned this last winter and one of the rooms was re configured to be a working lab space.  In many ways it is a tiny version of the Ecology Lab and Collections Facility that is being built in the old Science Library.Visitors learning about research in the ecology lab

We have gotten more use out of this lab space than expected and museum visitors have had enriching interactions with the students and researchers.

Andrew McCandless, a PhD candidate at Portland State University, has been sorting creatures collected from eelgrass. He has assistance from two local high school students.

In another project, two students are learning spider identification and will begin assisting with sorting spiders from the MMA’s spider collection.

Maria Mitchell intern and volunteer working on spider identificationStudetns and researchers working in the ecology lab.

“New Director of Astronomy at the Maria Mitchell Association”

“AAS photo © 2014 Joson Images”

“AAS photo © 2014 Joson Images”


Nantucket, MA- It is my distinct pleasure to announce that Dr. Regina Jorgenson will be joining the staff of the Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) as our next Director of Astronomy.  Dr. Jorgenson will replace Dr. Michael West who has taken a position as the Deputy Director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.   Dr. Jorgenson was selected from an extraordinary group of candidates and will be joining us on January 4, 2016 after finishing her obligations at Willamette University where she is a Visiting Professor. Dr. Jorgenson comments, “I am enthusiastic about working closely with undergraduate research collaborators, and am excited about utilizing the extraordinary Maria Mitchell Observatory facilities for our research.  As the new Director of Astronomy, I will consciously work to raise the national and international profile of the MMA via my collaborations in research, education, and outreach.  I will also bring my commitment to public outreach and advocacy for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM) fields.”

Dr. Jorgenson is no stranger to Nantucket or the MMA.  In the late 1990’s, she was a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) intern under the tutelage of the MMA’s then Director of Astronomy, Dr. Strelnitski.  She later joined the MMA staff as the Assistant Director of the Maria Mitchell Observatory from 1999-2002. 

Dr. Jorgenson, much like Maria Mitchell, is an advocate for women in Physics and Astronomy.  After her undergraduate graduation, she received the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship which permitted her to spend a year traveling around the world exploring the question, “why are there so few women in physics and astronomy and the effects of culture on science”.  Needless to say, the MMA staff is very excited to have her return.

Dr. Jorgenson earned her Ph.D. in physics at UC San Diego, specializing in studies of galaxy formation and evolution.  She continued this work as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cambridge and then won a prestigious National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship that she took to the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii.  There she used the largest optical telescopes in the world to obtain the first spectral images of normal galaxies in the early Universe.  

Although we have not set a date yet, the MMA is planning to host a reception on her behalf in January 2016.  We hope to see you there to welcome Dr. Regina Jorgenson to Nantucket and the MMA!


David Gagnon

Executive Director

Maria Mitchell’s Birthday Party

Untitled-1August 1st marks the 197th birthday of Maria Mitchell, who was born at 1 Vestal Street in 1818.  To celebrate her life and legacy, the Maria Mitchell Association invites the public to an afternoon full of free activities and refreshments on Friday July 31st.  The MMA campus on Vestal Street will be free to the public from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.  Children’s activities will be offered throughout the afternoon including: face painting, tours, nature and astronomy-themed games and activities, and even insect races! 

Maria Mitchell was the first Mitchell child born at 1 Vestal St., the first librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum, the first woman to receive a gold medal from the King of Denmark for discovering a comet, one of the first women to work for the U.S. government, and the first woman to gain access to the Vatican’s Observatory.  Of course, she was also the first female astronomer in the U.S.,-best known for her discovery of a comet named Comet Mitchell and her service as the first female professor of Astronomy in the U.S. at Vassar College.  The MMA was founded in 1902 to promote and celebrate Mitchell’s legacy of learning-by-doing, women in education, and education sciences.