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Backyard Brains Internship Fellowship 2017

Call for Undergraduates in Biology or Engineering Fields

Do you have an interest in neuroscience? Do you like squids or dragonflies? Electrical, Mechanical or Computer engineering? Want to develop your own experiments and publish your results?  Learn to communicate with the public?  Maybe even all of the above?  Then you’re in luck!

The Backyard Brains Summer Research Fellowship is an intensive 10 week program for undergraduates to participate in hands-on neuroscience research and experiment design with award winning neuroscientists. This is the 4th year of running our prestigious (and paid) summer program and this year it will run from May 22, 2017 to Aug 4, 2017 in Downtown Ann Arbor, MI.   All applications must be received by noon eastern time on March 13, 2017 to be eligible. We will be notifying applicants status by March 21, 2017.


Apply to the Summer Fellowship Today!


This is our 4th iteration of the program, which gets better each year.  Our summer fellowship program is run much like a graduate school laboratory. All participants will be working on independent research projects, we will have journal clubs to go over key papers, and you will be trained how to develop your own experiments and to build your own devices to perform those experiments.  You will be collecting data, analyzing and presenting your results.

The end result of your summer fellowship will be a publishable experiment and video for our website, as well as a poster to be delivered at Undergraduate Research Poster Session of the Society for Neuroscience.  Last year, all of our participants presented their research at a Undergraduate Research conference and some were selected to be posters at the Society for Neuroscience. We also brought home the hardware to show for the hard work: Two of our students won awards for their poster presentations, and 2 others won the Hackaday’s Citizen Scientist Challenge!  We will work with each student to prepare a 10 minute TED-style talk for a public event in Ann Arbor, with the possibility of presenting at our annual TEDx event. We have also worked with students to continue refining their experiment writeups into manuscripts to publish first-authored papers in peer-reviewed journals.


Apply to the Summer Fellowship Today!

Media Coverage of Past Intern Projects

As interns, you will receive media coverage by the popular press.  See below for previous examples:

Two Interns Win Hackaday’s Citizen Scientist Challenge

Arduino, EEG and Free Will by Patrick Glover
“If the brain had already been preparing to perform the action for nearly half a second before the individual consciously “decides” to perform the action, did the individual actually… decide?” Read the full article here.


Neuroscience of Grasshopper Jumps by Dieu My Nyugen
“Why are they hard to catch? Because they can quickly jump away when a person or another insect or object approaches it. How are they able to quickly hop away to escape a potential predator or avoid collision with an object? To address this specific question, I will look into the movement detector neurons in the grasshopper’s brain—the organ that fascinates me.” Read the full article here.

Optogenetics Featured In Hackaday

“Cort Thompson is working with fruit flies genetically modified so a neuron will activate when they’re exposed to a specific pulse of light. It’s called optogenetics, and [Cort] has a few of these guys who have an ‘I’m tasting something sweet’ neuron activated when exposed to a pulse of red light”. Read the full article here


RoboScorpion Featured in Popular Mechanics

“Backyard Brains, a small Michigan-based company dedicated to spreading the word about neuroscience, has been running surgical experiments on these deadly arachnids for the past two months, using electrical current to induce them to strike. Dylan Miller, a summer intern working the project, insists it’s the first time that an electrical current has ever been used to remotely induce a scorpion to strike with its pedipalps (claws) and tail”. Read the full article here.


Your Mentors

This summer you will be trained by Ph.D. Neuroscientists, inventors, makers, seasoned engineers, and public speakers.  With our team each intern will have a compelling demonstration that the public will be interested and delighted to see.  For example, see our recent TED talk on some our recent work.  Yours could be next!

Listen to a testimony from a former intern:

It was fun and challenging, but extremely rewarding. Greg was a great mentor and I learned so much. More than any other experience I’ve had, this fellowship prepared me for graduate school and a career in research“-D. Miller, 2014 Intern


Make Discoveries!

This year’s projects will be our most interesting and exciting ones yet.

Electric Fish – Amazon Mapping project  The past 2 years, we have been slowly developing a fish recording device that will detect the Electric Organ Discharges (EODs) of weakly electric fish.  We now have a project planned for next year where we need to make this device work!  You will build new electrode arrays for detecting fish in our tanks and develop the bits and pieces to make our waterproof devices run for months on batteries. Our goal is to deploy 500 of these into 2 estuaries in the Amazon in 2018.  Skills required:  EE, ME.

It’s like Tinder, but for Mosquitos.  Ever hear that annoying sound of a mosquito in your ear? That, dear friends, is actually a mating call.  Awwwww.  In this project, you will record the frequency of Michigan Mosquitos as they flap their wings while glued to sticks.  Eavesdrop in on Male/Female, Male/Male and Female/Female interactions.  Their wing patterns should sync if there is a love connection.  Dr. Ron Hoy (Cornell, see: will help you support this project.  Skills: Neuroscience, Psychology, EE

Pygmy Squid Behavioural analysis.   Off the coast of the Japanese islands live a wonderful and strange tiny species of squid called “Pygmy Squid” (Idiosepius paradoxus). These squid attach to the bottom of surfaces with a sticky part of their mantle to eat.  Their behaviors are not well understood… that’s where you come in!   We want to use a mobile phone to collect video data on these squid, and use machine learning techniques to identify new behaviours. Some videos of freely behaving attached adults are here [] and here []  Dr. Eric Edsinger (MBL) will assist you on this project. Skills: CS, EE, Psychology.

Sleep and learn (better) with EEGs.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could improve your memory while sleeping?  Studies have shown that cuing memories with sounds during sleep can lead to a robust improvement in recall of memories.  Really?  We’d like to make a DIY version of this project to see for ourselves.  Sound cues are said to be most effective if they are played during a particular phase of sleep (slow-wave sleep, which has previously been linked to memory consolidation).  Thus to run these experiments & get memory benefits, you will need to automatically detect slow waves and trigger the cue!  You will be working with Dr. Ken Norman (Princeton) and one of his high school students. Skills: Neuroscience, CS.

Diel migration in squid hatchlings.   Newly-born squid move up and down the water column of the ocean, possibly in seek of food, currents, or protection from predators.  This is not well understood.  We would like to detect the depth behaviour of these tiny hatchling by detecting where they are in a large cylinder of water.  We will be using freshly hatched Longfin inshore squid babies.  (Editor’s note: This is the famous species used by Huxley and Hodgkin in their 1963 Nobel Prize for understanding the Action Potential of neurons).   You will be working with Dr. Eric Edsinger from the Marine Biological Labs in Woods Hole, MA. Skills: ME, EE, Neuroscience, CS.

EEG visual decoding:  I can see that you’re seeing faces.  In this study, you will peer inside the thoughts of another human being… not really.  But you will be able to record electroencephalogram (EEG) from a human scalp to determine if you can detect if a person is looking at pictures of scenery or of human faces.  This is collaboration with Dr. Ken Norman at Princeton University. Here is the reference paper. Skills: Neuroscience, CS.

Killer Dragonfly neural recording: Dragonflies-the perfect flying predators, living up to their namesake! Dragonfly eyes are incredibly complex and achieve near all-around vision, as well as extremely accurate in determining the position and velocity of a flying target. Neurons in their eyes are directly connected to their flight muscles (rather than going through their brain first), so they can change their flight path or speed near instantly. Last year we were able to get some early recordings that shows this may be possible to do!  Your project will be to build on that work and carefully map the dragonflies descending flight neurons by recording while controlling  a “fake fly” (prey) using a laser. Skills: EE, CS, ME, Neuroscience.

What’s on the Fly Menu tonight?  Fruit flies can be annoying, seeming to appear out of nowhere to invade your fruit basket.  What are they looking to eat?  We will find out! We will use a new device called the “FlyPAD” to zoom in on the tiny flies’ tiny sips of food.  Once we get it working, we can start to ask interesting questions: do flies change their appetites based on what’s lacking in their diet?  What neurons control these behaviours?   We will use some cutting-edge genetic tools (themo and optogenetics) to turn on neurons that could affect their feeding behaviour. Dr. Pavel Itskov (Champalimaud) invented the FlyPAD and will support this project. Skills: EE, Neuroscience, genetics.

Become a BYB Research Fellow in 2017, and help start the neuro-revolution!

Apply to the Summer Fellowship Today!



Where does the fellowship take place?

You will be located at the Backyard Brains headquarters in downtown Ann Arbor (map). You will also be working out of our MakerSpace lab called “All Hands Active”.

Can international students participate?

Yes, we consider all students from all continents.

How much are the interns paid?

The weekly payment is $404/wk.

How much is housing and can you help us find it?

While we do not pay for your housing, we are happy to inform you that summer housing is notoriously easy to find in Ann Arbor, as students leave for the summer and make available sublets. The price varies, but you can find sublet housing on craigslist for under $400. We recommend that you stay close to downtown/central campus.

I am not out of class until June. Can I start a bit later?

We feel that our interns need a full 10w to make significant progress on their projects. If you have a compelling reason on how this will not affect your project, we are willing to evaluate it on a case by case basis.

I am not an undergrad, can I still apply?

While our program is designed for undergraduates… If you are a college graduate, or a super smart High Schooler, we will accept your application.

Is there time off for vacations?

While you will have ample free time in Ann Arbor, we ask that you make the commitment to stay on project for the entire length of the internship.

Are projects assigned to interns or do the interns get some autonomy in deciding the course of their research?

The summer projects are described above and in the fellowship application. Each student will submit the project that they are interested during this process, or can suggest their own ideas. We take the applicant’s preferences in mind, and we pair a student with a project early on so that the intern will have some time to do some background reading and familiarize themselves with the organism/methods. While we have some idea of the direction or end result of a project, we encourage independent thought throughout the process-some of our most successful projects have come from slight deviations from the original goals. We will send out some suggested papers a few weeks before the program starts.


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