From left: 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 celebrated the opening of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute at FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter today 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.
“A vibrant neuroscience ecosystem continues to grow and flourish on Florida Atlantic University’s Jupiter campus,” said FAU Interim President Stacy Volnick. “The state-of-the-art FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute was designed as a collaborative hub for neuroscience to foster connections and serve as a global destination for the world’s brightest scientists and students. We are extremely grateful to David J.S. Nicholson, the state of Florida and our many research partners, including the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, for their vision and support.”
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.
Nicholson and the Stiles-Nicholson Foundation have long had their finger on the pulse of the health sciences and education fields, as well as the needs of FAU’s faculty, researchers and students, working in various capacities with the University for nearly 15 years.
“This is a remarkable time for neuroscience as we push the frontier of what we know about the brain as it develops, ages and responds to injury or disease. For the first time, computer speeds, big data sciences and optical technologies have advanced to the point where meaningful big data brain discoveries are possible. The next decade of discovery belongs to neuroscience. I am incredibly proud to partner with FAU to realize our joint vision today,” said Nicholson. “As we officially open the doors to the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, we are poised to accelerate the discovery and translation of novel therapies and treatments that will provide new hope for patients within our communities and worldwide. Importantly, the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute will invigorate interest among young people to pursue STEM as a career and ultimately improve our nation’s rankings in science and math education.”
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. Activities supported by the center draw from advanced behavioral research infrastructure; non-invasive recording approaches to map and activate brain circuits; tools to test the effects of early-stage medications; and opportunities to evaluate the impact of genetic and environmental changes on learning, memory, addiction, anxiety and social behavior.
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.
“Conceiving, building and launching the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute has been a labor of love for us and we are ecstatic to showcase our outstanding research facility today,” said Randy Blakely, Ph.D., executive director of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, the David J.S. Nicholson Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience, and a professor of biomedical science within FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine. “We are incredibly thankful to David for his support and for everyone’s hard work and dedication to make the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute a reality. We believe that the impact from bringing together the brightest minds within this facility to unravel the secrets of the brain will improve the quality of people’s lives for decades to come.”
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.
“Today is the culmination of great generosity, hard work, deep commitment and a true vision to help advance groundbreaking discoveries in neuroscience, as well as STEM education throughout Palm Beach County through the Stiles-Nicholson STEM Teacher Academy,” said Chris Delisio, FAU vice president of institutional advancement and CEO of the FAU Foundation. “At the heart of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute is the desire to engage with the community and better understand the human brain and how it functions. We are immensely grateful to Mr. Nicholson for his continued support and commitment and for helping us to inspire the next generation of neuroscientists.”
Nicholson is a philanthropist and wealth manager with a demonstrated history of successful accomplishments in financial services and education. After a distinguished career with IBM and Weyerhaeuser, Nicholson applied his pioneering mathematical and engineering skills to the global financial markets, ultimately opening three quantitatively driven hedge funds and his own firm, York Management & Research, Inc., in 1978. York relocated the hedge fund complex to Jupiter in 1990 and continues today as a single-family office.
He formed the Stiles-Nicholson Foundation in 1992 to honor the military sacrifices of his father, William Stiles, a fallen soldier, and stepfather William Nicholson, a German POW survivor. The foundation supports major local and national education initiatives, which educate citizens about entrepreneurship, the free enterprise system, financial literacy, education reform and STEM.
Nicholson is a former director of Junior Achievement of the Palm Beaches, as well as the Jupiter Medical Center Foundation and the Washington-based Tax Foundation. After 10 years of service, he retired as trustee, treasurer and chairman of the Investment Committee for the Jupiter Medical Center Foundation, and currently volunteers as chair of the Stiles-Nicholson Foundation; vice chair of the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium; trustee of the Foundation for Florida’s Future; director and member of the Chairman’s Council of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County; a member of the Physics and Astronomy Advisory Council of Johns Hopkins University; the Palm Beach County School District Financial Literacy Council and STEM Advisory Council.