Press Release: Research Center Opening


For Immediate Release:
May 29, 2018
Contact: Trinity Foreman

The Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association Open
New Research Center Following a Multi-Year Renovation
of the Former Science Library

Nantucket, MA – The Maria Mitchell Association, Nantucket’s Science Center, dedicated its new Research Center in the home of the former MMA Science Library on May 25, 2018 at 2 Vestal Street, Nantucket, MA.  The ribbon cutting ceremony was led by critically- acclaimed author, Nathaniel Philbrick and Eileen McGrath, the former director of Natural Science at the MMA. Both serve as Honorary Board Members to the MMA.  The Research Center will provide updated classroom and research space, as well as a state-of-the-art home for the MMA’s biological collections.   The collections represent the flora and fauna found on Nantucket over the past century.  The collections are available to scientists, as well as scholars, researchers, students, and others.  The classroom will provide new indoor space for students and adults participating in the wide variety of programs that the MMA offers.

Fundraising for the $1.2 million project started four years ago with monies from grants and from individual donors, including the Community Preservation Act, which largely funded the exterior conservation of the building. To convert the old Science Library to the new Research Center, historic fabric and the original building and its 1930s addition were preserved.  A new HVAC system was installed, the stucco portion of the building was stabilized, additional supporting members were added to the original wood portion of the building, and other minor work was completed, including adding an accessible path and bathroom. The exterior of the building is now under a preservation easement held by Nantucket Preservation Trust.  The wood portion of the building once served as William Mitchell’s – father of Maria Mitchell – schoolhouse and was acquired by the MMA in 1919 to serve as a science library and meeting space.

“This is an exciting time for the Maria Mitchell Association, especially given that this year marks the 200th birthday of Maria Mitchell.  The Research Center will provide year round space for hands on learning, a style of education that Maria Mitchell embraced,” says David Gagnon, Executive Director of the Maria Mitchell Association.

Maria Mitchell was America’s first woman astronomer.  In 1847, she discovered a telescopic comet from the roof of Nantucket’s Pacific Bank.  Her father, the President of the bank, and the family, including Maria, lived in the apartments above.  Her comet discovery attracted international fame and she was awarded a gold medal from the King of Denmark.  She went on to teach astronomy at the newly formed Vassar College.

“After her discovery of the comet, she became sort of the rock star of the astronomy world.  She challenged the role of women in science.  In 1848, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as the first female member, a position she held exclusively for nearly a century.  In 1850, she became the first woman member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  She was a teacher and a scientist and she helped pave the way for future generations of women scientists,” says Jascin N. Leonardo Finger, Deputy Director of the MMA and Curator of the Mitchell House, Archives, and Special Collections.