Valeriya Polunina on piano (from left), Valentin Mansurov on violin and Chauncey Patterson on viola, members of the Palm Beach Symphony perform during the Jan. 18 installment of the Max Planck Florida Institute’s “Science Meets Music” series at the Benjamin Upper School in Palm Beach Gardens.
Provided by the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience.
Many people recognize the mathematical role in music but perhaps don’t recognize the art form’s link to science. The Jupiter-based Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience’s “Science Meets Music” series, which combines lectures and musical performances, can make that connection.
Established in 2010 and in its current site since 2012, the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience is the only North American branch of the Max Planck Society. The German scientific research organization, which has more than 80 institutes worldwide, was founded in 1911 and renamed for Planck (1858-1947) in 1948.
At its Florida institute, neuroscientists from around the world meet to answer fundamental questions about brain development and function. A theoretical physicist, Planck recognized a kinship between science and the arts, saying, “The pioneer scientist must have a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination.”
“It’s a very appealing program,” says Katie Edwards, the head of public affairs and communications at the Florida institute. “People like to have those moments where they can be intellectually challenged and entertained at the same time.”
Max Planck started its annual, three-part “Science Meets Music” series shortly after its sprawling Jupiter location was completed more than a decade ago. The decision to combine scientific lectures with live performances — mostly classical music — has resulted in additional entertainment value when it’s appropriate.
“It really depends on the topic,” Edwards says. “This year, it seems like the science and music portions are overlapping more.”
One example is the next presentation in the 2023 series. On March 15, institute neuroscientist Hidehiko Inagake will speak about “The Symphony in the Brain,” illustrating how the nearly 100 billion neurons in the human brain complement and communicate with one another like an oversized symphony orchestra. Cellist and MPFI Postbaccalaureate Program student Jordan Anderson and pianist and institute scientific director Ryohei Yasuda will provide musical examples.
“A lot of people, when they think of science and research, think of applied research,” Edwards says, “like trying to develop a drug to treat a certain disease. What all Max Planck institutes do is basic fundamental research — what we call curiosity-driven research, the idea of not being able to create a solution to a problem without really understanding how it works. What we want to do with this series is to entertain people while raising awareness about the importance of this kind of research.”
Regardless of how overt or covert the music is, “Science Meets Music” has become a victim of its own success by outgrowing its original setting at the institute, which could accommodate an audience of 100. It now is held at the Benjamin Upper School, which seats 800 in its auditorium.
“Our audiences are largely the general public,” Edwards says, “people who are curious about science, lifelong learners, and teachers and students, including music students, from the community.”
Admission is free, but online registration is required.
The three-part series began Jan. 18 with appearances by the Palm Beach Symphony and Patrick Cramer, a chemist and molecular biologist who is the managing director of the institute in Gottingen, Germany. His lecture on gene transcription (the process of cells growing and changing) was among his visits to each of the Max Planck Institutes in preparation for assuming the role of president-elect of the Max Planck Society in June.
The series concludes April 5 with a lecture on the impact of music on neuroscience by Daniela Sammler, a research group leader for the society’s Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, with musical accompaniment by pianist and neuroscientist Patricia Izbicki.
The “Science Meets Music” presentations start at 6:15 p.m. at Benjamin Hall at the Benjamin Upper School, 4875 Grandiflora Circle, Palm Beach Gardens. For further information, call 561-972-9000, or visit www.mpfi.org.