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Planck, FAU Join Forces in Research

July 31, 2008

By Stephen Pounds, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Jul. 30–The Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees approved a cooperative agreement Wednesday with the Max Planck Society to partner in research and academic programs.

The Munich, Germany-based science giant is building a bio-imaging research center south of Scripps Florida in Jupiter, and the FAU deal outlines a framework for undertaking research and academic projects together, making joint patent application filings, gaining access to scientific instruments and creating a lecture series at the university by Max Planck scientists.

The first lecture will take place in February at FAU’s Boca campus, when Max Planck’s Dr. Bert Sakmann, co-recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, will speak about decision-making in the rodent brain.

“It’s going to make a lot of difference in bringing top-notch faculty and graduate students,” said Ram Narayanan, FAU’s chairman of chemistry and biochemistry. “It’s a great opportunity to improve the quality of education.” As part of the agreement, FAU agreed preliminarily to sublease 6 acres of property for Max Planck’s permanent laboratory.

It also agreed to provide temporary quarters for Max Planck scientists where Scripps now operates and allow for 10,000 square feet in Max Planck’s permanent building for the German institute and FAU to operate joint labs and lecture rooms.

“It’s exciting for us to be physically housed in the same building with (a research organization) like Max Planck,” FAU President Frank Brogan said.

The land provisions will have to come before the board again for a final sign-off. They also will need the approval of the Florida Division of State Land, the MacArthur Foundation, the Palm Beach County Commission and Max Planck’s governing board.

“It is a major step forward for us,” said Claudia Hillinger, Max Planck’s representative here. “It’s one of the major requisites… They have provided a major part of their land for our permanent facility.” Max Planck got approval from the county commission last week for $87 million in job-growth incentives for 135 high-wage jobs.

It must operate the research center for 15 years in Palm Beach County, with 70 percent of its employees remaining in the county for at least 10 years.

The all-encompassing FAU contract is similar to deals with Scripps Florida in Jupiter and the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies.

Since 2004, Scripps has started 32 joint projects with Florida universities, researching cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and bioterrorism, among other things, Scripps spokesman Keith McKeown said. Eight of those projects are with FAU alone.

Torrey Pines, which is building its headquarters in Port St. Lucie, also is collaborating with FAU. It operates from a 15,000-square-foot lab owned by FAU north of Fort Pierce.

Torrey Pines has signed research agreements with the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida State University and Scripps. The partnerships focus on topics ranging from cancer to insect research.

“Hopefully we will find a Gatorade-type of situation,” said FAU trustee William Bryant, referring to the blockbuster royalties arrangement for the energy drink developed at the University of Florida.

Max Planck is scheduled to begin moving into temporary quarters in Jupiter at the end of the year or in early 2009 as Scripps moves into its own permanent quarters, also on the FAU campus.

Staff writer Eve Samples contributed to this story.

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