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More Science in the Sunshine State

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The new Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

In the Sunshine State, science is ready to bloom. On December 5, I attended the official grand opening of the new, $64 million, 100,000-square-foot Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter—and the first of the Max Planck Institutes outside of Europe. The institute will focus on the human brain, which scientific director and CEO David Fitzpatrick called “the most complex living structure in the known universe.” Fitzpatrick cited a goal of understanding what goes wrong in the mental disorders that “affect more than a billion people worldwide,” in the hopes of finding new therapies. The center joins the nearby Scripps Florida, a division of the Scripps Research Institute based in La Jolla, Calif., on the Florida Atlantic University campus.

People who meet me know I often speak of science as the engine of human prosperity. And indeed, economic benefits were a factor behind the interest of local policy leaders, including former Governor Jeb Bush, in siting the facility. The Max Planck Society, with an overall record of 17 Nobel laureates, 1,100 inventions and 90 company company spin-offs, is hoping to work similar magic here.

The new institute is only the latest example of how policy planners are looking to science and innovations to build a better future. As I’ve written about recently, I’ve become fascinated by the relationships that municipalities, states and countries choose to have with science as they plan their futures. That fascination led to our special report, “State of the World’s Science 2012” (and see interactive about different countries) in the October 2012 issue of Scientific American and a collaboration, “Global Mobility: Science on the Move,” with our colleagues at our sister publication, Nature. (And see “Brains in Circulation.) We have also run an essay by New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on why the city chose to invest in an applied sciences center now called the Cornell-NYC Tech Campus.

One of the benefits of science in a global economy is, of course, its inherently global nature. Here, Max Planck Florida will benefit in several ways—starting with a healthy grant from Germany of $10 million a year for a minimum of four years, which Cornelia Quennet-Theielen, the country’s State Secretary and Department Head at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, announced at the opening. The German knack for linking academia with improved engineering and manufacturing (see “The U.S. Could Learn from Germany’s High-Tech Manufacturing“) is also being imported, in the form of a German master engineer and an on-site machine shop. Science is also very collaborative, and the researchers’ domain of brain-circuit studies will interact nicely with work in molecular biology and chemistry at Scripps Florida, as well as with overseas colleagues.

Here’s a video Max Planck Florida put together about its mission.

As I mentioned to the researchers from both Max Planck and Scripps whom I met while I toured their facilities: as their research progresses, I’m looking forward to seeing their article proposals for Scientific American Mind and Scientific American.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from my visit to whet your appetite. And if you live in the Jupiter area, you can visit Max Planck Florida with your family on Saturday, December 8, for Discovery Day.

neurons in cortex of human brain

Gorgeous "Cortical Landscape," with gold, dye and mica, by artist Greg Dunn, greets visitors to entry of Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

two photon microscope

This two-photon microscope will enable imaging of living tissue for studies at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

wet lab bench

Lab bench at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

Mariette DiChristina About the Author: Editor in Chief, Mariette DiChristina, oversees Scientific American, ScientificAmerican.com, Scientific American MIND and all newsstand special editions. Follow on Twitter @mdichristina.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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