(l-r) U.S. Congressman Brian Mast; Barbara Feingold, vice chair, FAU Board of Trustees; MaryLynn Magar, former member of the Florida House of Representatives; Robert Stilley, former chair and member, FAU Board of Trustees; Interim President Stacy Volnick; David J.S. Nicholson; Randy Blakely, Ph.D., executive director, FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute; Patrick McNamara, president and CEO of Palm Health Foundation; and Chris Delisio, FAU vice president of institutional advancement and CEO of the FAU Foundation. (Photo by Alex Dolce)

Florida Atlantic University recently celebrated the opening of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute at FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The official launch of the institute heralds a new era in neuroscience research, education and community engagement. The multimillion-dollar, 58,000-square-foot facility will serve as a “beacon of hope” for the study and amelioration of numerous brain and behavioral disorders.

The FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute was made possible by a transformative $10 million gift from Nicholson, who championed the idea of a new brain research, education and community engagement institute. The $35-million research space represents a significant investment by the state of Florida, FAU and its research partners.

The first floor of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute is home to the Center for Brain Disease Modeling, a facility designed to develop and advance approaches to study brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, autism, addiction and brain cancer. The center will more than double FAU’s current capacity for physiological and behavioral analyses.

Within the Center for Brain Disease Modeling, the Neurobehavioral Core Laboratory specializes in neurobehavioral research while providing state-of-the-art educational experiences for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral fellows. The first floor also offers a public area that features a reception space, lobby and a two-story, interactive auditorium designed to be quickly reconfigured for lectures, symposia and community events. In this area, visitors not only hear from world-class neuroscientists on recent advances in brain science and health but also enjoy theater-in-the-round style performances or join community champions in banquet-style gatherings. The lobby area flows to a patio where visitors can meet with scholars, artists and students to enjoy sunsets over a fountained lake.

A key feature of the second floor is the Advanced Cell Imaging Core Laboratory where the visualization of brain cells takes place. Multidimensional, dynamic cellular and brain circuit visualization merges with computational and virtual reality resources in this space to allow researchers to peer deeply into the brain. It also contains more than $1 million in already acquired equipment and houses one of 14 Nikon Centers of Excellence in the United States, one of 16 in the Americas and 1 of 30 worldwide.

Among the research areas taking place on the second floor, approximately 4,400-square-feet of open laboratory space is linked to facilities with shared technology and faculty offices. The open design stimulates communication and collaboration among junior and senior scientists and fosters multidisciplinary research opportunities.

The third floor is outfitted to support the researchers whose studies link molecular, cellular and computational neuroscience. A space outfitted with high-speed optical fiber connects researchers’ computer workstations to the supercomputers of the FAU High Performance Computing Center where analysis of immense data are manipulated for the 3D modeling of proteins and drugs as well as to decipher the complex physiological signatures of the human brain. The space also will support advanced training of high school, undergraduate and graduate students in computational biology, chemistry and neuroscience.

Additional space on the third floor is envisioned as a Center for the Resilient Mind, created to advance the understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying coping with early life and ongoing stress, the temptations of drugs of abuse, and the mood disorders that plague millions worldwide. Key to this center will be the creation of formal partnerships between psychologists, engineers, social workers and educators. This interdisciplinary activity will boost the understanding of how an intersection of genetics, social interactions and life events drive changes in the brain in some, but not all people. Additional open lab environments will support centers for brain development and autism research and for neurodegenerative disease research.

Another major, transformative element of the Nicholson gift is the establishment of the Stiles-Nicholson STEM Teacher Academy, which bridges the high-caliber research setting with middle and high school teachers and students, and will provide premier experiential STEM training programs for educators through the Jupiter campus’ nationally recognized FAU High School. The academy will complement Nicholson’s investment in the Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute’s ASCEND Program, which focuses on STEM training for middle school students who are just beginning to consider careers in science, engineering and medicine.