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Backyard Brains Receives Prestigious Tibbetts Award 2020 for “Demonstrating Significant Economic and Social Impact”

backyard brains tibbetts award 2020

Another accolade is about to hit our shelves! The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently announced recipients of the prestigious Tibbetts Award 2020. Backyard Brains is one of 38 companies that are deemed “beacons of promise and models of excellence in high technology.” Every year, Tibbie goes to companies, individuals and organizations “for the exceptional successes they achieved through SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)” program.

This recognition further fuels our mission to keep building low-fi yet research-grade neuroscience gear and bringing it into your average school classroom. The goal is to help kids dip their toes into project-based science today so that they could help cure billions of people from neurological disorders tomorrow. That’s exactly what Tibbie is all about: a mix of “economic and social impact,” of research and development to propel young companies and help them serve our communities better.

Tibbie is named after Rolland Tibbetts, a senior program officer at the National Science Foundation who founded the SBIR/STTR federal funding program for small innovative companies. Backyard Brains was and still is one of these companies. And we wouldn’t have gotten very far without the support from farsighted federal grant programs for ideas that need time to blossom into successful commercial projects.

Today, we are joining the hall of fame of hundreds of companies and organizations who have been awarded Tibbie since its inception in 1995. Indeed, some multinational giants have kicked off their journey with Tibbie, including Qualcomm, 23andMe, Symantec and Broadcom. Here’s to hoping that we’ll grow at least half as big within the next decade!

Tibbetts Award 2020 is just another star in the BYB Awards & Honors list

backyard brains tibbetts award 2020
Our cofounders Tim Greg with their first award back in 2008

Since it’s bragging time, let’s boast some more! Here’s a list of the many awards and honors Backyard Brains has received over the past 12 years. (It’s not all there is, but we are not very meticulous at keeping track!)

  • 2020 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Award. GS10KSB is a selective four month training program (worth $50,000) for business leadership and growth strategies.
  • 2020 Invited Talk – J. James Wood Lecture – Butler University
  • 2018 Collaboration with HarvardX on the largest neuroscience massive open online course “Fundamentals of Neuroscience”
  • 2018 Profiled on “Bill Nye Saves the World” on Netflix for our Human-Human Interface kit
  • 2018 Collaboration with TED on new video series: DIY Neuroscience. Each episode features an undergraduate student developing easy-to-use neuroscience research tools for the K12 classroom
  • 2017 Invited talk at the Annual Computational and Systems Neuroscience (Cosyne) 2017 Meeting
  • 2017 Invited talk at TED2017 on plant electrophysiology
  • 2016 Profiled on Mythbuster’s “White Rabbit Project” on Netflix for our human-based neuroscience  inventions
  • 2015 TED Talk about taking away a person’s free will
  • 2014 Invited Speaker at the NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series
  • 2014 TED Senior Fellow, 3rd talk featuring Human-Human Interface available online
  • 2013 Recipient of the United States “Champions of Change” award at the White House for our work in promoting citizen science
  • 2013 Nominee. 5th Annual Imagine Science Film Festival. Controlled Experiments
  • 2013 Profiled on CNN’s The Next List as a forward-looking thinkers in the fields of tech, science and social change
  • 2012 TED Fellow. Presented two TED talks on our work. The now famous “Cockroach Beatbox” TED talk was selected to launch the TED K12 Education initiative entitled “TED Ed”
  • 2011 Start-Up Chile Fellow.  Recipient of $40k in grant funding to start operations in Latin America
  • 2011 Editors Choice Award: Maker Faire Detroit
  • 2010 Society for Neuroscience Next Generation Award for “outstanding contributions to public outreach and science education”
  • 2010 Society for Neuroscience Anuradha Rao Memorial Travel Award
  • 2010 Marine Biological Laboratory Neural Systems and Behavior course, Woods Hole, MA
  • 2008 The $100 Spike Project is one of four presentations highlighted out of 10,000 for the Journal Nature’s Neuroscience Podcast “Highlights of SfN 2008”

DIY Neuroscience and AI for All – Virtual Workshop by IBRO-LARC/PEDECIBA

diy neuroscience and ai for all workshop

Who says that hands-on approach doesn’t work in virtual space? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: science is doable, DIY-able, interactive, and it works online just as efficiently as it does in person!

Back in August 2020, the IBRO-LARC/PEDECIBA* “DIY Neuroscience and AI for all” workshop showed that the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t have to stand in the way of hands-on neuroscience. BYB founders, Drs. Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, who also took part in the project, tell us that student attendants from Uruguay, Argentina, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Peru were super engaged and motivated. “I had concerns about a virtual conference at first, but all fears were put to rest once seeing it play out. The discussion, questions and feedback during my lecture was better than in-person,” says Greg.

In his lecture aptly titled “Neuroscience tools for the 99%”, he recounted the humble, bohemian beginnings of Backyard Brains over a decade ago, when he and Tim invented a $100 spike in their dorm room. Building a contraption from scratch and pitching the idea to the scientific community and the public are two different things, so they came up with a satirical narrative about a zombie apocalypse to attract people to their booth at the Society for Neuroscience conference. The rest is history!

In one of his two presentations (which, alas, aren’t available in English), Tim discussed open-source philosophy and ways to make your own lab at home. Hablas Español, anyone? In case you do, here is the video. (If you take notes in English, do send them over!)

Tim also demonstrated the Venus Flytrap experiment featuring our good old friend, the Plant SpikerBox, to show a very unique talent that some plants developed: the ability to count, calculate and anticipate. Heart & Brain SpikerBox also made an appearance.

María Castelló (Clemente Estable Biological Research Institute), who organized and coordinated the event, confirms that the program was successful and productive, despite the lack of in-person dimension. “Three of the students groups not only prepared their reports but also send manuscripts for publication in an Uruguayan journal for teachers from the Biology Department of the National Administration of Public Education,” Maria told us.

*IBRO (International Brain Research Organization) is an international federation of scientific organizations. It was founded back in 1961 with the mission to promote neuroscience accross the world and foster collaboration between individual researchers as well as scientific communities. IBRO’s LARC (Latin America Regional Committee) is one of their six regional branches spreading accross the continents. PEDECIBA (Basic Sciences Development Program) is Uruguay’s national interdisciplinary program that fosters scientific research as part of the United Nations Development Progoramme (UNDP).


Teachers Gets a $1,000 Award in BYB Research Kits from Society for Science & the Public

BYB Research Kits for distance learning
Neuron SpikerBox

Distance learning just got a lot easier for the 7th grade students of Abington Avenue School (Newark, NJ)! Their teacher Khalil Gordon has recently won $1,000 in Neuron SpikerBox Bundles. More precisely, they will get 13 of BYB research kits that they can use for project-based science learning from the comfort of their PJs!

The funding is part of Society for Science & the Public’s STEM Research Grants totaling $100,000, awarded to 100 middle and high school teachers from all across the U.S. They put special emphasis on schools in underserved and underrepresented communities.

This year, the program was geared toward distance learning, striving to provide teachers with resources and tools that facilitate hands-on science labs that students can do at home. As we’ve already written, a Harvard study has shown how well our bioamplifiers perform in student dorms, living rooms, bedrooms, or just about anywhere.

Neuron SpikerBox and other standards-aligned Remote Labs lie at the intersection of various nerdy disciplines such as biology, electrophysiology, computer science. They are already in use in hundreds of U.S. schools, colleges and other institutions – from elementary to higher education. The tweets speak for themselves!

Congrats to Mr. Gordon! We’re looking forward to hearing about his students’ scientific discoveries in the classroom – be it remote, in-person, or hybrid. (We can already see the working title of a student project: “The day I got kicked by a cockroach leg.”)

Are there any other teacher grants?

Over the year, there are many national and local grants for individuals, schools, and school districts. However, most funding cycles are now over, so we’ll drop just a few that you may still apply for. Heed the deadlines though – the clock is ticking!

  • Donors Choose Grant (public fundraising opportunity) – no deadline, just pitch well and apply anytime
  • Fund for Teachers (up to $5,000 for individuals or $10,000 for teams; to be used on customizable professional development) – the deadline is January 21st, 2020
  • The NEA Foundation Learning & Leadership Grants (up to $5,000 for educators who are NEA members; to be used for professional development) – the next deadline is February 28th, 2020
  • McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Academic Enrichment Grants (up to $10,000 per year, maximum of $30,000 over three consecutive years; to be used on projects that supplement classroom curriculum or afterschool activities for students from low-income households) – application from January 15th to April 15th or until they reach 350 submissions
  • Walmart Local Community Grants (up to $5,000 in classroom resources or equipment for K-12 schools) – the application deadline for this cycle is December 31st, 2020
  • AIAA Foundation Classroom Grant (up to $500 for K-12 teachers to be used on classroom STEM equipment, tools, supplies with an emphasis on aerospace) – the application deadline is January 15th, 2021
  • Honda Community Grant (up to $75,000 per year for school districts, to be used on classroom equipment or curriculum) – next deadline for new organizations is February 1st, 2021
  • Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Initiative (up to $10,000 for high-school teams of teachers and students who need to deploy their STEM expertise to solve a real-life problem with a technological innovation; to be used on related research, materials, and learning experience) – the initial application deadline is June 4th, 2021
  • NSF Special Programs for K-12 Educators (various programs)