At a university where undergraduates as young as 14 already are engaged in studies on cancer, opioid addiction and neurological disorders, Florida Atlantic University soon will expand its research capabilities through a one-of-a-kind partnership.
The Boca Raton-based school on Monday announced the FAU-Max Planck Honors Program, an undergraduate opportunity that will create a pipeline between young researchers and Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, the renowned German biotechnology research institute. The program will launch in the fall.
The university already has a graduate partnership with Max Planck and Scripps Research-Institute Florida, both based in Jupiter near FAU’s second largest campus. This expands the university’s research hub in northern Palm Beach County, where just last year it created a brain research center that partners with the aforementioned institutes.
This latest deal opens the door for FAU undergraduates to engage in groundbreaking neuroscience research, and for hundreds of teens who study at the on-campus high school.
“What we want to do, of course, is open up our labs,” said Martin Stratmann, president of Max Planck. “We have state-of-the-art equipment, which you cannot have in undergrad training.”
Max Planck representatives toured the Florida Atlantic High School campus, where teens, who begin taking college courses at the university during their sophomore year, described their neuroscience research firsthand.
Students from Florida Atlantic High and A.D. Henderson School, an elementary and middle school also on campus, have published 16 peer-reviewed journal articles, one of them authored by a 12-year-old middle school student.
“I was blown away,” said David Fitzpatrick, scientific director and CEO at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter. “I had never seen anything like that.”
University officials and Max Planck leaders walked the high school halls Monday and watched teenage students tinker with autonomous race cars they’d built in the robotics lab and dissect a sheep’s brain in the biology classrooms.
Those same students often graduate with a bachelor’s degree within weeks or months of graduating high school.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Ajay Desai, a 16-year-old sophomore doing research on sleep disorders and Parkinson’s disease with doctors at the university’s medical school.
The Max Planck program will serve a select number of elite students who will have access to elective courses at Max Planck’s Jupiter research facility. They will have the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research at the facility, take workshops on career building from established scientists and have access to international symposia where students present to Nobel laureates.
“We envision them getting involved in the laboratories. They’ll have training. They’ll be understanding what’s known and what isn’t known,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’ll be working with us.”
FAU President John Kelly said the program expands Florida Atlantic’s recruiting opportunities. He said he plans to call “the brightest students in the world” and draw them to the “one-of-a-kind” undergraduate program.
“Our goal is to be the fastest improving university in the country,” Kelly said. “One of the ways you do that is you partner with some of the best entities in the world. Max Planck is certainly that.”