Making the Old Mill New

Sponsor: Nantucket Historical Association
Sponsor Liaison: Mary Emery Lacoursiere, James Russell, Karl Wietzel
Student Team: Peter Jankowski, Ryan Luisi, Kathryn Stovall, Avery Wallis
Abstract: The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) wants to use interactive exhibits to improve their visitor experience. The goal of our project was to design, build, and refine interactive exhibits and interpretive materials for one of their properties, the Old Mill. We made four portable physical interactives, explored the STEM concepts of friction, levers, translation of motion, and energy conversion, all present in the Old Mill. Using an iterative design process, we improved our exhibit prototypes with feedback from the NHA and third graders, remaking one exhibit at a larger scale. We also made a storyboard for a digital exhibit about the Old Mill for learning and accessibility, using video of the Old Mill in action, a rendering of the Old Mill we made, and NHA staff interviews we conducted.

NHA Final Report

Final NHA Presentation – Part 1

Final NHA Presentation – Part 2

Executive Summary


While museums worldwide attract hundreds of millions of visitors annually, they must continually work to improve visitation and the visitor experience. The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) is trying to use interactive exhibits to improve the visitor experience at one of their properties, the Old Mill. Their goal is to make the Old Mill a must-see destination on Nantucket, and for it to be a model for other historic mills nationwide.

Project Objectives:

The goal of our project was to design, build, and refine a set of interactive exhibits and associated interpretive materials for the Old Mill. To complete this goal, the following project objectives were fulfilled by the project team:

  1. Determined best practices in the design and evaluation of interactive museum exhibits.
  2. Evaluated the interactive exhibits developed for the Old Mill in 2018, and developed design criteria.
  3. Designed, tested, and built new and revised interactives for the Old Mill.

Our main tasks on Nantucket focused on the evaluation of previous exhibits and construction of new and revised exhibits. Based on interviews and background research, the team evaluated the previous exhibits used at the Old Mill. We then used iterative feedback from the NHA and third graders at Nantucket Intermediate School to build and improve our own exhibit prototypes.

The finalized prototypes were presented to the NHA to be used at the Old Mill or in the Whaling Museum. We also left recommendations for improvements that could be made for future iterations of our exhibits.

Project Outcomes:

The intended outcome of this project was to provide the NHA with interactive exhibits that could be used to provide learning opportunities and accessibility for the Old Mill. To accomplish this, we used an iterative design process to design, build, and improve upon our exhibits. Starting with cardboard mockups, we progressed to 3D renderings and plywood models for four physical exhibits. The first physical exhibit we completed was Grinding to a Halt, which teaches about friction and braking in the Old Mill. Next, we built a remake of an exhibit made by a previous WPI project team. This exhibit, called the Box O’ Rocks, uses a lever arm to teach about the Old Mill’s static brake, levers, and forces. The next exhibit that we built was the Gearbox, which demonstrates translation of motion and inertia by modelling the gears in the mill. Finally, we built Turning on the Light, an exhibit that relates windmills to wind turbines by showing conversion from mechanical to electrical energy. We improved these exhibits with feedback from the NHA and the third grade classes at the Nantucket Intermediate School. Based on the feedback from students and the NHA, we made a larger version of our Box O’ Rocks exhibit and improved our other exhibits. See Figures ES1 to ES5 below for images of all our finished exhibits.

Figure ES1: Grinding to a Halt Exhibit


Figure ES2: Box O’ Rocks Exhibit


Figure ES3: Gearbox Exhibit


Figure ES4: Turning on the Light Exhibit


Figure ES5: Large Scale Box O’ Rocks Exhibit


While we were making our physical exhibits, our group also assembled content for a digital interactive with the intent that it would improve accessibility for the Old Mill site and help bring the Old Mill to life. For footage, we conducted seven interviews with NHA staff, recorded the Old Mill in operation, and made animations of a 3D model of the Old Mill in motion. Using our footage, we made edited clips describing the parts and history of the Old Mill. We sent our animations of our model of the Old Mill and edited clips to Novation Media to be assembled into a digital exhibit.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

From our visit with the third graders, we conclude that our interactive exhibits are engaging to a younger audience. We also conclude that the exhibits appear to be effective at conveying the STEM concepts of friction, forces, levers, translation of motion, inertia, and energy conversion. We conclude that the interactives will enable the NHA to extend the learning opportunities presented by the Old Mill.

For Grinding to a Halt, we recommend that the NHA add interchangeable wheels of different sizes and with different materials on their exteriors. For our smaller Box O’ Rocks, we recommend that the NHA add a pneumatic brake and replace the S-hooks with carabiners. For the Gearbox, we recommend that the NHA adds a funnel for collecting corn dropped off the grindstone. For Turning on the Light, we recommend that the light be made easier to see. To accomplish this, we recommend adding more gears to the gear train, making it easier to turn on the light. We recommend that, as planned, Novation Media use our edited clips and storyboard to create a digital interactive exhibit.