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FAU hopes to build $33 million brain science center at Jupiter campus

Florida Atlantic University President John Kelly said he’s hopeful that state lawmakers will approve $30 million for a new brain science building on the school’s Jupiter campus.

If the state comes through with the cash, Kelly wants to make a splash. He envisions a 72,000-square-foot building along Donald Ross Road that would greet motorists passing the labs of Scripps Florida and Max Planck Florida.

Kelly said the university already has received $3.3 million from the state and hopes to get $15 million each of the next two years, for a total of $33 million. FAU has a couple empty parcels that could accommodate the new labs, but those lots are in less prominent locations on the interior of the school’s Abacoa campus.

“My goal is to move it,” Kelly said.

Kelly was in Jupiter on Thursday to announce that FAU has been named a “Nikon Center of Excellence.” FAU’s Brain Institute now boasts a $750,000 microscope that provides 3D views of cells and reveals more detail than scientists have ever seen.

The device is so precise that it lets researchers see a single molecule moving on a cell, said Randy Blakely, executive director of the FAU Brain Institute.

FAU joins a handful of organizations with Nikon centers, including the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, Vanderbilt University and Princeton University, and Kelly hopes the designation will help lure faculty and students.

“It’s huge for recruiting,” Kelly said.

For now, the high-end microscope is housed in a closet-sized room in a lab at FAU. The university is sharing the device with researchers from Scripps Florida and Max Planck Florida — and Kelly hopes the Nikon center will help FAU secure state funding for its new building.

“We’ll be on the cutting edge of research and will inspire the next generation of students and entrepreneurs,” said state Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta.

Magar predicted the alliance of Scripps, Max Planck and FAU will “transform the economy of the region” — although such promises have proven slow to materialize.

Despite a public investment of some $750 million in Scripps and Max Planck, Palm Beach County’s biotech hub has fallen far short of creating the tens of thousands of private-sector jobs predicted by then-Gov. Jeb Bush when he wooed Scripps.

“The declining economy hurt us. Plus, the amount of jobs and economic impact were overpromised,” said Jupiter Medical Center Chief Executive and President John Couris. “We are resetting our expectations. Will we be successful? Yes.”

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