Grand opening of Max Planck Florida Institute in the USA

New institute brings together top research neuroscientists to collaborate on unlocking the mysteries of the brain

December 06, 2012

Jeff Atwater, Chief Finance Officer of the US State of Florida, Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, German State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Prof. Peter Gruss, Max Planck Society President, and Dr. David Fitzpatrick, Scientific Director and CEO, opened the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) at an official ceremony. It is the first institute of the Max Planck Society, which is based in Germany, to be located at the emergent research location of Jupiter, Florida, in the USA. The Max Planck Society, which today has over 80 institutes, is Germany’s leading research organization – since its foundation more than 60 years ago, it has produced 17 Nobel laureates from its ranks. Board of Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Steven Abrams, Jupiter Mayor Karen Golanka, Florida Atlantic University President Dr. Mary Jane Saunders and Max Planck Florida Foundation Chairman George Elmore also took part in the opening ceremony.

The new institute, ideally integrated on a campus with the Scripps Research Institute and the Florida Atlantic University, carries out research into fundamental brain processes to improve the chances of curing disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. There are now nine Research Groups at the institute in total which are led by the two Directors Dr. David Fitzpatrick and Dr. Ryohei Yasuda: The institute’s workforce is to increase to 135 employees by 2015. “The need to better understand how the brain functions and to provide new treatments is vitally important to millions of people in America and across the world. Cures cannot be provided in areas where research has not been carried out,” said Dr. David Fitzpatrick, Scientific Director and CEO of the MPFI, outlining the institute’s mission: “The fundamental discoveries that we make will be shared with researchers around the globe in order to develop treatments and cures for various human brain disorders.”

Max Planck Society President Peter Gruss highlighted the benefits of the location: “Our scientists have found outstanding local partners at Jupiter in the Scripps Research Institute and the Florida Atlantic University. Together with these organizations, our institute constitutes a high-performance neuroscience research cluster that will continue to excel.” Gruss also pointed out that the Max Planck’s presence in the USA was mutually beneficial. On one hand, it will raise the profile of the excellent research conducted by German science in the USA, the leading research nation. “On the other hand, the US commitment enables us to acquire outstanding researchers for the Max Planck Society’s scientific community, who probably would not have come to Germany.” State Secretary Cornelia Quennet-Thielen declared: “We have driven forward the internationalization of German science in recent years because we want to shape research collaboration with the best in the world as an active partner. Collaboration with the USA plays an extremely important role here. The Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience meets all the criteria to become a beacon of German-USA scientific collaboration.”

The Max Planck President believes that the new institute ideally complements the MPS’s research portfolio: “The researchers, led by Directors David Fitzpatrick and Ryohei Yasuda, are focusing on a highly promising field of research within neuroscience. Achieving a better understanding of the neuronal networks in the cerebral cortex can help millions of people suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders. This issue will now be approached from very different angles at Jupiter. The start-up funding from the State of Florida and Palm Beach County has provided a solid foundation.”

President Peter Gruss made special reference to the achievements of Nobel Prize laureate and MPS scientist Bert Sakmann. “Through his efforts to set up activities in Florida, he has made a significant contribution to firmly establishing the institute as part of the international scientific community. This also applies to cooperation between the institute in Florida and Max Planck neuroscience institutes in Germany.”

CFO Jeff Atwater said: “There is no better place than Florida for the Max Planck institute to call home as it joins the ranks of other research institutes in our innovative state. Through its research, the institute will work to bring about scientific and medical advancements, as well as prompt economic growth and job creation in Florida. It is my hope that it will also encourage and inspire future scientists, and increase interest for science, technology, engineering and math majors among our students."

Designed by the Washington DC office of ZGF Architects LLP (ZGF), the new research facility for the MPFI will provide state-of-the-art working conditions for the scientists and research teams. The building is designed to provide nearly 5,400 m² of laboratory space that will house wet and dry bench research, instrumentation labs, computational research, core imaging facilities and microscope suites, information technology services and offices for researchers and support staff. The scientific facilities are divided into three research wings. Conference rooms, a 100-seat auditorium, lounges and administration offices are centrally located around an open lobby that connects all three floor levels. A large atrium is directly connected to an outdoor terrace on the second floor and provides a central meeting space. The new facility also has six guest laboratories to ensure sufficient space for cooperation with researchers from other organizations.

The MPFI sets high standards in terms of the sustainability of laboratory facilities. Energy consumption is to be reduced to a minimum. The air conditioning was optimized by the structural design. Laboratory and office spaces have large windows facing due north for maximum daylight, and south-facing offices have external sunshades calibrated to provide ample daylight while minimizing heat and glare. All areas are equipped with sophisticated, energy-efficient air conditioning technology. There are also mechanical systems with state-of-the-art energy recovery wheels to capture useable energy from building exhaust. Another feature is the recycling of moisture removed in the process of dehumidification that contributes to the building’s cooling system. Drought-tolerant native species are used for landscaping, and irrigation will be provided by a municipal reclaimed water system. The new institute building was awarded the Leed Gold Certificate for sustainable construction in view of its various energy efficiency measures.

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