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April 2008 - Volume 4 - Issue 10

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Max Planck Society Establishes First Overseas Institute in Florida

The State of Florida has embarked on a mission to establish itself as one of the world’s leading centers for biotechnology. To support this mission, the state has established the ‘Florida Innovation Incentive Fund’ funded in the amount of $200 million to bring significant research projects, private sector businesses, or prestigious institutions to Florida. As a result of this commitment, in November 2007 the Max Planck Society headquartered in Germany approved the establishment of the Society’s first overseas institute in the United States. The Max Planck Florida Institute is expected to begin operations in 2008 on the Jupiter campus of Florida Atlantic University.

Photo credit: Antje Meinen

Dr. Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society in Germany, discussed the history and scope of the organization and its decision to establish an institute in Florida. "The Max Planck Society was founded on February 26, 1948. The Society defined itself as a research organization that enjoys autonomy to perform basic research of a high international standard. The number of institutes and employees has grown steadily over the years to the current eighty research institutes."

He continued, "As in the past, the research institutes of the Max Planck Society today perform excellent basic research in the interest of the general public in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities."

"Today, the Max Planck Society of Germany is one of the strongest research organizations World wide. Its mandate is to carry out outstanding basic research at the highest international level in its own research institutes, most of which are located in Germany. With 17 Nobel Laureates since 1948, an annual budget of approximately 2.0 billion US$, 12,400 staff members and another 12,000 young researchers, visiting scientists and PostDocs, it pioneers research programs in distinct areas ranging from astronomy to the humanities, with one special focus on biomedical research. The Max Planck Society of Germany is well linked to leading science worldwide and will make its networks available to its partners in Florida."

Dr. Gruss described the Max Planck Society’s relationships with research organizations in the United States as follows, "Universities in the U.S. are the most prominent research partners of Max Planck Institutes. Currently there are approximately 550 joint research projects of Max Planck Scientists with U.S. scientists. In addition, the Max Planck Society shares the costs of a number of large pieces of international facilities located in the U.S. and runs its own major experiment or measurement facilities. Max Planck scientists collaborate in the world's largest and most important labs in high energy physics and astronomy as well as in significant international space missions, including NASA missions."

"Beyond these intense scientific collaborations and partnerships, the Max Planck Society does not maintain an institutional presence in the U.S. The Max Planck Florida Institute will be indeed the first Max Planck Institute in the U.S."

In describing the reasons the Max Planck Society decided to establish the Max Planck Florida Institute (MPFI) Dr. Gruss explained, "The State of Florida has undertaken a visionary initiative to transform the economic landscape of the State by investing in life science clusters and throughout Palm Beach County the life sciences sector as the core strategic part of the economic development is thriving with activity. Although biotechnology initiatives have been created in many countries around the globe, Florida has already demonstrated unprecedented success in attracting several anchoring institutions to join the State. One of these, The Scripps Research Institute Florida, located in Northern Palm Beach County, has already begun to produce measurable results in terms of educational and economic benefit."

"Max Planck Florida will be closely linked with the universities in Florida, in particular with Florida Atlantic University, and will work with the renowned local research facilities of The Scripps Research Institute and others, thus speeding up considerably the formation of a strong biotech cluster in Florida. Max Planck Florida Institute will strive to contribute to the development of a strong research environment in Florida as a motor for the biotech industry. The experience from Germany shows that Max Planck Institutes successfully attract companies both in a regional cluster and as partners in licensing contracts. Max Planck Florida Institute will also actively pursue to spin off start-up companies, to transfer its knowledge to companies and to provide skilled workforce for the regional biotech industry. The Max Planck Florida Institute will also serve to boost the educational and training opportunities available to students and junior scientists."

The Max Planck Florida Institute will focus its scientific activities on Bioimaging using the most advanced techniques for visualization of microscopic molecular processes to achieve a deeper understanding of the structure, dynamics, and function of molecules and tissues in order to tackle challenging problems in biology, bioengineering, and medicine. Bioimaging is indispensable to a rapid translation of basic research into clinical application, improving health and creating wealth for the population through a stronger biotechnology industry.

According to Dr. Gruss the outline of the Institute is based on an integrative and coherent concept that attempts to visualize molecular and physiologic tissue properties with unprecedented specificity and in a non-invasive manner. It aims at innovative and goal-directed approaches in the life sciences which – at the highest level – include new tools for diagnostic imaging and therapy monitoring in humans.

In terms of organizational structure, molecular and cellular bioimaging will be at the heart of the Institute. Associated research areas will employ optical imaging techniques and deal with molecular bioimaging, biosensing, and cellular mechanisms.

Commenting on the ‘Member Institute’ structure chosen for the Max Planck Florida Institute, Dr. Gruss said, "This structure allows the realization of the specific proven features and basic principles of the Max Planck Society in a foreign environment. Through the structure of a Member Institute, a "win-win"-situation can be created. MPFI will be the ‘operational arm’ of the Max Planck Florida Corporation (MPFC), a Florida not-for-profit corporation established by the Max Planck Society." Regarding the organizational structure of the MPFI, Dr. Gruss indicated it still had to be determined, "This has still to be decided in detail. The exact distribution of departments and junior research groups across the planned research areas of the Max Planck Florida Institute will be determined once the leading scientific staff has been identified and appointed."

First activities of the Institute are expected before the end of 2008. In its final stage of development the Institute is expected to have three departments staffed by around 135 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 Max Planck Society. It will also offer a visiting scientist program and provide lab space for internationally renowned researchers to carry out their work. Dr. Gruss emphasized, "The Max Planck Florida Institute will give us a foothold in the world's most important country for science. 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."

For further information about the Max Planck Society, visit www.mpg.de/english/portal/index.html.
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