Max Planck Florida Institute (MPFI) is providing a unique learning opportunity this summer for talented and highly motivated high school students and college undergraduates. Students are hard at work inside the Institute’s new laboratories in Jupiter working alongside researchers and scientists who have dedicated their lives to advancing the world’s knowledge of neuroscience and gaining a better understanding of the human brain and its function. Students work in one of MPFI’s nine research groups, each focused on a different aspect and approach to neural circuit research.

“We welcome these high-caliber students who clearly demonstrate outstanding scientific acumen,” said Dr. Ana Fiallos, Head of Education Outreach at MPFI. “This is their first, real-life experience in this very exciting yet challenging field and it will greatly enhance their future careers.”

Three Palm Beach County high school students participated in MPFI’s Summer Research Internship, a six-week program that concluded on July 20. This year’s interns include Christopher Heung of Atlantic High School, who will be a senior in the fall and Dominic Russo of Jupiter High School, who will be a junior in the fall. They worked with Long Yan, Ph.D., the head of the Optical Workshop and Light Microscopy Facility Center developing software programs for image processing.  Terrell Ibanez, who will be a senior in the fall at Suncoast Community High School, worked in the Cellular Organization of Cortical Circuit Function lab, led by James Schummers, Ph.D., which studies the functional organization of the cortex – the convoluted outer “shell” of the brain that is responsible for many brain functions, including sensory perception, motor control and higher cognitive functions.  At the end of the program, the interns gave a presentation to the MPFI and Scripps Florida scientific communities.

MPFI is also hosting undergraduate science majors this summer through its inaugural Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Fellowship (NURF). The program runs through August 24. While the majority of the student interns’ time at MPFI is being spent contributing to current projects in the Institute’s research laboratories, they also participate in additional activities aimed at developing well-rounded future scientists.

Alisha Kshetry, an undergraduate at Emory University, is working in the Disorders of Neural Circuit Function lab, led by McLean Bolton, Ph.D. This research group focuses on understanding how brain circuitry is altered by injury and genetic disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, autism, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, schizophrenia and epilepsy. Monica Wei, an undergraduate at Northwestern University, works under Scientific Director & Chief Executive Officer, David Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., in the Functional Architecture and Development of Visual Cortex research group, which is focused on the functional organization and development of neural circuits in the cerebral cortex, the largest and most complex area of the brain. The proper functioning of this neuronal network is critical for sensory perception, motor control and cognition.

“This program offers an unparalleled experience not typical of a university experience. Our NURF interns have the opportunity to train at a dedicated neuroscience-focused research institute with core facilities on-site,” said Jessica Herbst, MPFI’s Head of Academic Training Programs. “Most of the applicants are from out of state, which provides an extra benefit for MPFI to gain exposure in other parts of the country, and for students to experience Palm Beach County.”

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