$10 million gift helps pave way for Franklin Institute expansion

The Franklin Institute will soon break ground for a major expansion to its existing footprint. Construction of a 53,000-square-foot pavilion will begin in the spring.

The money that made it possible came from an unexpected source.

Philanthropists Nicholas and Athena Karabots had never given a dime to the Franklin Institute before donating $10 million to the museum, its largest donation ever.

Starting from humble beginnings, the couple has been giving their considerable fortune toward education for disadvantaged children.

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Nicholas Karabots said a recent visit to the Franklin Institute on a summer evening convinced him the science museum should be part of that effort.

“Going up to the roof and finding the astronomer with four inner-city kids, all anxious to learn and push forward,” said Karabots. “The same thing we’re doing with the College of Physicians. Our heart went out.”

With the gift from Karabots, the museum is less than $8 million away from its $64.7 million fundraising goal. That will pay for upgrades to the existing building, and the new pavilion, which will house a future exhibition about the human brain.

Called “Your Brain,” it will allow visitors to learn how their brains learn. However, it will not resemble the Franklin’s other iconic exhibit of a human organ, the walk-though heart.

“We had some early discussion–should we do a walk-through brain?” said Franklin Institute President Dennis Wint. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Hard to do it right. We needed to go in a different direction.”

The new pavilion, with its new brain, is expected to open in 2014. The addition to the neo-classical architecture will feature a modern flair. The south side of the institute will be dominated by a 68-foot by 41-foot “Shimmer Wall” made of thousands of stainless steel squares fluttering slightly in the wind

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