MPFI Head of Education Outreach Wins STEM Innovation Award

Dr. Ilaria Drago, Head of Education Outreach for the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, was named the Rising Star Award recipient for the 2019 STEM Innovation Awards at a ceremony that took place on Saturday September 7. The STEM Innovation Awards is an annual program of the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium that recognizes leadership, service and collaboration in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The Rising Star Award is given to an emerging leader who has demonstrated leadership in developing STEM teams, providing guidance and leading STEM events and programs. This award recognizes achievements that inspire others to follow and improve STEM education.

Ilaria joined the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) in June 2018. Among her many accomplishments in her first year as were coordinating MPFI’s Summer High School and Teacher Internship programs, organizing MPFI’s Science Career Panel for more than 70 students and teachers, and hosting the Brain Bee Challenge which brought in nearly sixty competitors and drew hundreds of live viewers online. This summer Ilaria, in partnership with the Machine Perception and Cognitive Robotics Lab at FAU, launched MPFI’s first ever Machine Learning and AI Summer Camp. She also represents MPFI at STEM Education Councils and volunteers at science and career fairs at local schools.

In the last year, Ilaria worked closely with the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science for the “Max Planck: Images of Science” exhibit and with the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium for the “Journey through the Human Brain” exhibit.

Ilaria obtained her Ph.D. in Cell Biology at the University of Padova (Italy) in 2009. She then moved to the United States for her postdoctoral training and worked in the Neuroscience Department of the Scripps Florida Institute, where she studied how mitochondria influence processes like neuronal development, memory, and aging. During her career as a scientist, Ilaria always enjoyed mentoring younger scientists, participating in education outreach events and engaging the general public to raise awareness of the importance of basic research.

Engaging the community in ways that ignite passion for science is a critical part of Max Planck Florida’s mission. Ilaria Drago’s energy, creativity, and leadership have been the source of a number of wonderful experiences for students and educators in Palm Beach county and our institute as a whole. We are very proud of her accomplishments and wholeheartedly congratulate her on this much-deserved award,” said David Fitzpatrick, MPFI’s CEO and Scientific Director.

The Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI), a not-for-profit research organization, is part of the world-renowned Max Planck Society, Germany’s most successful research organization with over 80 institutes worldwide. Since its establishment in 1948, 18 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists. As its first U.S. institution, MPFI brings together exceptional neuroscientists from around the world to answer fundamental questions about brain development and function and to develop new technologies that make groundbreaking scientific discoveries possible. Their research is shared publicly with scholars, universities and other organizations around the globe, providing the necessary foundation of knowledge to develop treatments and cures for brain disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.