MPFI Receives Generous Donations to Fund Mobile Science Outreach Initiative

May 15, 2024

Last year, only 51% of Palm Beach County 5th-grade students and 46% of students in 8th grade passed state standardized science exams1. Now, with the help of a generous donation, the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience hopes to help improve those numbers.

Philanthropists David Nicholson and John and Stephanie Pew have donated $50,000 each to MPFI’s education outreach program, enabling MPFI to purchase a customized van to take STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities to Palm Beach and Martin County schools. “Ask Max” will be a mobile science engagement program aimed at schools and community groups throughout the region.

“Children learn in different ways, and we have found that providing exciting hands-on activities helps them understand complicated concepts like genetics or brain anatomy – even at the elementary school level,” said Dr. Ilaria Drago, Head of Outreach and Advancement. “We are profoundly grateful to the generosity of David Nicholson and John and Stephanie Pew. Their gift will impact thousands of students for years to come.”

The Ask Max initiative aims to bridge the gap between the research conducted at MPFI and the broader community, fostering a greater understanding and appreciation for science. The curriculum-aligned activities will go beyond neuroscience to encompass a broad range of STEM-related topics such as genetics, DNA, experimental design, microscopy, optogenetics, and more. By bringing immersive science experiences directly to schools, MPFI hopes to ignite curiosity and passion for discovery among students of all ages.

“Our goal is not only to help students understand the science, but to be excited by it. Studies have shown that students, particularly girls, will not consider a STEM-related profession if they don’t have a positive experience with science by their middle school years. We want to help every student in our region understand that they have what it takes to pursue a career in STEM, and that science is fun and within their reach,” said Erica Eggerman, MPFI Education Outreach Coordinator.

In the last 18 months, MPFI staff have visited dozens of schools and connected with 9,000 students and community members. For teachers who have brought MPFI to their classrooms in the past, this new expansion of the program opens even more possibilities.

Caitlin Holloway of Wellington High School has participated in MPFI’s teacher training as well as classroom visits. As an educator, she saw firsthand how MPFI’s education outreach impacted her students. “Students often have a difficult middle school science experience and tend to check out in science classes in high school. Max Planck classroom visits reinstate joy in science and spark a love for learning,” she said.

Susan Hahn of Eagles Landing Middle School in Boca Raton agrees. “Students receive many benefits from this program. They are exposed to different career paths in science and get an idea of what it takes to become a scientist. They get to practice the steps of the scientific method. Hands-on practice with variables, control groups, and trials will help them comprehend and remember the steps,” she said.

To learn more about MPFI’s Ask Max program or to bring the program to your school, visit or email



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