Max Planck Society Senate decides to establish a Florida Institute

President Gruss: Institute in the life-sciences is part of the Max Planck Society’s wider internationalization strategy

December 04, 2007

On November 23, 2007, the Senate of the Max Planck Society gave its approval for the establishment of the Society’s first overseas institute in the USA. The Max Planck Florida Institute is expected to start work as early as 2008 on the Jupiter Campus of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in the immediate vicinity of the Scripps Research Institute. In September 2007, local authority Palm Beach County in the State of Florida unanimously approved 87 million US dollars in funding for the next ten years. The Max Planck Society now awaits the decision of the Governor of the State of Florida for a further support in excess of 90 million dollars. This would mean that the Institute will be financed exclusively out of US funds. The establishment of this legally independent Institute is part of the Max Planck Society’s internationalization strategy.

"The research conducted by the Max Planck Society and its structures are highly regarded abroad," commented Max Planck President Peter Gruss. "Overall this has a positive reverse effect on research in Germany." In pursuing its drive towards internationalization, the Max Planck Society has several objectives in view: On the one hand the aim is to improve access to excellent research institutions abroad and make the Society even more attractive to premier foreign staff as well as junior scientists. On the other hand, the Society is keen to promote a competitive culture and develop new areas of knowledge and topics of research.

"Given the impact of demographic change, in the coming years we will urgently need excellent junior scientists from abroad if we are to remain competitive at an international level," President Gruss continued. According to the latest studies by the Rostock Center for Demographic Change in cooperation with the MPI for Demography, by the year 2030 only 165,000 young people will graduate from universities in Germany. That means 50,000 fewer graduates compared with the year 2005. Experts anticipate that the number of science and engineering graduates will fall by up to 24 percent compared with 2005.

Strengthening Germany’s presence abroad

It is intended that in future there will be four types of institution abroad: Besides the traditional Max Planck Institutes (in Rome, Florence and Nijmegen), there are to be so-called Member Institutes which have a legal form of their own. The Max Planck Florida Institute will be the first of this type abroad. Member Institutes will be subject to the same rules in terms of research topic selection, appointment of scientists and quality assurance that have proven their worth over decades at the Max Planck Society. In addition there are expected to be more limited-term Partner Institutes following the pattern set by the Partner Institute for Computational Biology in Shanghai, a joint venture by the MPS and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Negotiations with the research organization CONICET in Argentina aimed at establishing such a Partner Institute are nearing completion. "Following a systematic analysis of local conditions and dependent on the overseas partner, we are endeavoring to find and establish the ideal form of cooperation to suit each location," Peter Gruss explained. "Our aim is to strengthen the presence of German science in those key countries that are of decisive importance to us".

The Max Planck Society is international

For the Max Planck Society, internationalization is a sine qua non. MPS scientists not only benefit from a high-grade international network of contacts (in 2006 there were over joint 2,100 international projects involving over 5,800 research partners the world over). The Society also attracts many of its top researchers from abroad: Around a quarter of Institute Directors are of foreign nationality, while this proportion rises to almost fifty percent among doctoral students, due primarily to the successful International Max Planck Research Schools. There are currently 49 of these International Max Planck Research Schools, which offer an internationally oriented program of post-graduate studies. In addition, the MPS also operates its own doctoral student program together with the Chinese Academy of Scientists and offers short-term scholarships and travel grants for Indian scientists. Each year there are more than 6,000 visiting scientists and scholarship holders from abroad working at Max Planck Institutes. Through the medium of Max Planck Institute partner groups, visiting scientists continue to receive financial support for five years after returning home to enable them to continue their work and set up their own research groups. Worldwide there are currently 36 partner groups headed by former guests at Max Planck Institutes who have meanwhile returned to their home countries - with excellent results.

Max Planck Institute Florida

With the establishment of its "Florida Innovation Incentive Fund" the US State of Florida has launched a wide-ranging program designed to attract biotech companies and research institutions to Florida and develop the State into one of the world’s leading centers of biotechnology. It was Florida‘s commitment that three years ago persuaded the Scripps Institute, which has an international reputation in the field of biomedicine, to locate to the campus of Florida Atlantic University. And it was above all the prospect of cooperating closely with Scripps that stimulated the Max Planck Society’s interest in Palm Beach County. Florida Atlantic University (FAU) is one of the fastest growing research universities in the United States and will play an important part in training junior scientists. FAU is also providing the land to build the new Institute. The State of Florida intends to top up the funds earmarked by the County to a total of around 190 million dollars. "The fact that those responsible for this development in Florida have specifically invited a German research organization as their sole partner from abroad represents a triumph for German science as a whole," Peter Gruss declared.

Once the contract negotiations with Florida are completed, the Institute is expected to start work before the end of 2008. It its final stage of development the Institute is expected to have three departments staffed by around 150 researchers from all over the world. It is planned to appoint the Directors as Scientific Members of the Max Planck Society. The Max Planck Florida Institute will function as a legally independent unit under the umbrella of the MPS. It will also offer a visiting scientist program and provide lab space for internationally renowned researchers to carry out their work. "The Max Planck Florida institute will give us a foothold in the world's most important country for science," emphasized the Max Planck President. The Max Planck Society is not only about to demonstrate its scientific prowess and its ability to compete in the world’s most highly developed competitive system; it is also further consolidating the international position of the Max Planck brand.

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