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Building Smart
Building Smart

Philanthropist Gifts $9.22M Toward New Neuroscience Building

By Bethany Augliere

For philanthropist and wealth manager David J. S. Nicholson, the brain is the most complicated computer known to mankind. “It’s one of the last unsolved frontiers of science,” he said.

To support research efforts, as well as educate the next generation of neuroscientists, Nicholson gifted $9.22 million to help construct a state of the art research facility in Jupiter, further adding to the thriving neuroscience ecosystem at FAU’s Jupiter campus, adjoining the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience and Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute.

The new building, named the FAU’s Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, will provide 60,000-square-feet of space to house more than 100 researchers and support facilities. The expanded space brings more opportunities for collaborative research, leading to increased opportunities for federal funding from entities such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, along with private entities looking to provide research grants and gifts to impact brain science and health.

The building is projected to house six new research centers, covering research from the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s to supercomputing that examines large data sets from molecules to neural activity.

Nicholson’s gift also establishes the David J.S. Nicholson Distinguished Professorship in Neuroscience to be held by Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., executive director of the Brain Institute, the David and Lynn Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, focused on better understanding and treating Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, and other brain disorders, and the Stiles-Nicholson STEM Teacher Academy to provide STEM training to educators. In addition, his gift supports the Brain Institute’s ASCEND (Advancing STEM Community Engagement through Neuroscience Discovery) program which introduces middle schoolers to brain science and health concepts, bringing the total of Nicholson’s gift to
$10 million.

“The gift allows for the creation of a world class research facility, one that will return on the investment made by David Nicholson, FAU and the state of Florida many fold in terms of research success, recruitment of top faculty and trainees, as well as new opportunities, through our community education programs, to broaden awareness of the exciting brain research being done right here in Palm Beach County,”
Blakely said.

"I'm very supportive of public education and public higher education, especially in Florida."

— David J. S. Nicholson

As vice chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Cox Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach, Nicholson met Blakely while he was serving as scientific advisor for the now-open permanent exhibit called the Journey Through the Human Brain.

“I got to know Randy over that period of time, and then our foundation decided to support the ASCEND program,” Nicholson said. “One of the aspects of the ASCEND program that I liked was that it was an outreach program to elementary, middle and high school students to show them the wonders of the discoveries in neuroscience. I’m very supportive of public education and public higher education, especially in Florida.”

In addition to Blakely, it was the leadership at FAU that Nicholson said inspired him to donate this gift. “FAU has excellent leadership and that goes right up to the top. John Kelly (FAU president) has established these different pillars, one of which is the Brain Institute. In addition to outreach, the Jupiter campus is a neuroscience hub, and the new institute can support the research endeavors that Randy Blakely, executive director of the newly christened institute, wants to undertake.”

Nicholson knew from a young age he wanted to be a part of the technological future, inspired by the launch of Sputnik (world’s first artificial satellite) in 1957. “I’ve always thought that science is really the root word of, or you can call this the stem of, all improvements in the quality of our lives,” he said.

He earned a degree in electrical engineering from Queen’s University in Canada. He launched his own investment firm in 1978 and the Stiles-Nicholson Foundation in 1992. “As the mission of our foundation unfolded, and we grew, it became apparent that there was a major crisis and shortfall in education, as it related to the STEM fields and science in particular.”      

Conceptual Rendering

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