bright lights in the lab 2015

Bright Lights in the Lab takes place at University of Toronto Schools, from July 6-17. More than 60 high school students ranging from Grade 7 through 12 will work with teachers, PhD's and graduate students from U of T to perform science experiments on behavior, learning and memory.

This year, Firefly has received support from  Fulbright Canada and the Rotman School of Management's GBC outreach program to provide scholarships and bursaries to 15 students with limited resources, but who love science and demonstrate great academic potential.

"Our goal has been to bring together kids interested in brain science and all its wonders, so we can inspire them to follow their dreams." says Heather Fraser, Founder of Firefly Foundation. "It's incredible to see their curiosity and resourcefulness at work."

Neuroscience remains a new frontier. These young students are starting to face the reality of how 'old people's diseases' can have an impact on their current and future quality of life. By learning about the brain and performing experiments, these students learn the skills needed to channel their passion for learning into a future where they could be the ones to find a cure of treatment for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

"Designing experiments—recording from neurons and measuring changes in behavior in response to environmental stimuli or drug application—are game-changers for a high school student," says Anand Mahadevan, Camp Director, "It takes them away from cookie-cutter school labs and brings them closer to inquiry-based thinking which is critical to success in science."

"Their enthusiasm and curiosity creates hope and excitement about the future of neuroscience in Canada. Parents & grandparents should be so proud of them", says Fraser. "As we scale this camp and expand it across Canada, our next quest is to offer these students university scholarships. They give us all hope for the future."

bright lights in the lab 2015 sponsors and scholars

The Fulbright Canada Community Leadership Program, which is co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Canada and Fulbright Canada, provides an opportunity for Fulbright Alumni the opportunity to take action, get involved, and help make your community and the world a better place. In 2015 our Camp Director, Anand Mahadevan, received funding to provide full scholarships for 8 students to attend our program.

For the second year we received continued support from the Rotman School of Management Graduate Student Business Council enabling us to provide and additional 8 students to receive bursaries.  

We are very grateful for the support of our sponsors.

congratulations to the students

at the 2015 brain bee


In 2015, 14 high schools, with 48 students competed and following three rounds of competition the winners were:  Shannon Eagan (first place), Laura Newcombe (second place) and Ruby Zhang (third place).  Both Shannon and Ruby were from University of Toronto Schools, while Laura was representing North Toronto Collegiate Institute.  The Top Ranking Novice Participant Award went to Justin Lu (Upper Canada College).

For Shannon, the 2015 Brain Bee challenge was her third time participating at the event, reinforcing the saying that “third time’s a charm” with her first place win this year.  However there was nothing “lucky” about her success as her experience in previous events and preparation for this year’s competition attend.  Shannon leads a club for Brain Bee preparation at UTS.  Currently in Grade 12, she is planning a future in neuroscience and will be attending McGill this Fall.  Her advice for future Brain Bee competitors is to go deeper into the textbooks, to make connections between topics and chapters and to investigate material beyond the book!

Laura  single handedly represented her school, North Toronto Collegiate Institute.   Her motivation largely stemmed from a desire to learn, of knowing for the sake of knowing.  She has twice reached the finals at the Spelling Bee of Canada competition, and found the Brain Bee a good next step.  She plans to study architecture at the University of Waterloo.

The Toronto Brain Bee likes to recognize first time competitors and this year the top ranking novice participant Justin described his time at the Brain Bee as an eye opening experience.  During the past school year, Justin and fellow student Elliott Birman, started a Neuroscience Club with the goal of getting other students interested in the science of the brain.   We hope Justin will return for the 2016 competition.

Between the competition rounds, two short research presentations were given and lunch was provided for all of the competition participants, high school teachers and volunteers.  Following the competition, all the participants were invited to visit the Anatomy Museum in the Medical Sciences Building.

Students from Branksome Hall also enjoyed a strong presence at the competition with 12 participants and their teacher Chandra Boon. The school first participated in the Brain Bee in 2014, leaving their contestants feeling they were not fully prepared.  Not this year !  A Neuroscience club was formed, with three club heads — Ashley, Natalie, and Destiny — that hosted various group preparatory events for this year’s Brain Bee competition.  The students took turns giving presentations on each of the topics and chapters from the Brain Bee learning materials, and recognized areas that warranted particular focus and study.

think tank

On June 25th we gathered in the art studios at University of Toronto Schools to work with students and learn what they think young people would like to know about the brain... and how they's like to receive & use this information.

This event was one of many held during 2014 as part of our Bright for Life project.

firefly's first symposium on the brain

On April 10th, 2014, aspiring students of all grades, teachers, and staff of the University of Toronto Schools attended the Alzheimer Society of Canada and Firefly Symposium on the Brain. The symposium, which featured several accomplished guest speakers, focused on the discussion of Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia, innovative methods of treatment for the condition, and inspiring the younger generation to think about the brain.

Guest speaker Mimi Lowi-Young, the chief executive officer of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, introduced the research program of the Alzheimer Society. Ms. Lowi-Young revealed that “more than 700 000 people have this disease in Canada, and the number of people with it will double in 20 years, yet 50% of people delay diagnosis.” Her statement proved its prevalence and that more research on Alzheimer’s is a necessity. The new research program aims to encourage people to see the doctor and fund ideas to be tested. It focuses on two areas of study: the science behind the brain, and how to improve the quality of life for those with the disease.

Dr. Ido Strauss, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital, has been testing a novel method of treating neurodegenerative conditions called “deep brain stimulation.” In his lecture, he explained the concept of deep brain stimulation and its effects on Alzheimer’s disease. “Alzheimer’s is the most common neurodegenerative condition,” said Dr. Strauss, “yet there is no way to properly diagnose it. Significant advances have not been made in developing drug treatments for the disease.” Deep brain stimulation, however, may be the treatment that the hundreds of thousands of patients need. It involves placing electrodes on a patient’s brain to activate circuits in the organ. “Positioning electrodes in front of the fornix is shown to improve memory, with beneficial results lasting a year after surgery,” he added. With more testing, Dr. Strauss plans to find out whether this new form of treatment can live up to its expectations. 

“Sometimes you discover things you didn’t intend to discover,” remarked Neil Fraser, the president of the company Medtronic. Medtronic is a global leader in medical technology, also using deep brain stimulation to treat movement disorders such as dystonia. The company is working towards creating new engineering approaches, including less invasive technology.

A goal of the Firefly Foundation is to inspire students to take an interest in the brain. “It is important for youth to understand brain health,” said Rosemary Evans, the principal of University of Toronto Schools. “Research for dementia is critical for the baby-boom generation and the future.” “It’s about inspiration and dreams,” the founder of the Firefly Foundation, Heather Fraser, added. “Inspiration starts young, so we need to inspire children to think about the brain in order to extend the life of the brain.”   The future looks bright with the University of Toronto Schools’ partnership with the Firefly Foundation, as it brings many new opportunities to the table. This rich relationship will bring about the inspiration and education that the world needs, ultimately resulting in working together towards a greater cure.


about our guest author, Kay Wu


I am a quiet high school student interested in pursuing a career in the sciences. I find the universe fascinating and seek to learn as much as possible about the world that I live in.
My spirit is dynamic; besides my love for knowledge, I also have a penchant for art, video games, and weird things. You can often find me with my nose buried in a book or with a pen in hand, drawing or writing down thoughts and story ideas. In my spare time, I sleep.    
I believe that truth is the highest power.

2014 brain bee


The Firefly Foundation was a proud sponsor of the 16th Annual Toronto Brain Bee.  The competition took place at the Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories at the University of Toronto on March 28, 2014. 55 students from 15 high schools in the Toronto area participated in the competition.

Following three rounds of questions, the top three winners were: Michael Liu (first place), Catherine Hu (second place) and Andrea Zukowski (third place). Michael and Catherine were from the University of Toronto Schools, while Andrea was representing the Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts. As the first place winner, Michael Liu will represent Toronto at the 7th Annual CIHR Canadian National Brain Bee competition, which will take place at McMaster University in Hamilton on May 31, 2014.

bright lights in the lab launches in 2013

Last July 42 future scientists joined together in the lab to undertake their own research experiments.

Bright Lights in the Lab enables high school students to  experience the full research cycle: conduct literature searches; organize & execute research plans; deliver a report on their findings; meet, collaborate and work with current researchers and academics from the University. In the process, they  learn to work productively and creatively in an increasingly complex environment; develop critical problem solving skills; and gain an introduction to the scope of possibilities in a career in science.

The aim of Bright Lights is to enable  students to emerge from the program more knowledgeable, skilled, connected and confident with an understanding of the foundational scientific research principles required for success in the lab… today & tomorrow.


2013 brain bee

Firefly is a proud sponsor of the Toronto Brain Bee, a knowledge-based competition for high school students. It tests the knowledge of the students in neuroscience.

The 15th Annual Toronto Brain Bee competition took place at the Medical Sciences Building, on April 5, 2013. 56 students from 26 high schools in the Toronto area participated in the competition.

Following three rounds of questions the top three winners were:

  • Sophia Ly (first place),
  • Mithunan Ravindran (second place) and
  • Olivia Ly (third place).

The first place winner Sophia Ly will represent Toronto at the 6th Annual CIHR Canadian National Brain Bee competition (, which will take place at McMaster University in Hamilton on June 1, 2013.

The 2013 Brain Bee competition was jointly sponsored by the Collaborative Program in Neuroscience, the Department of Physiology and the Firefly Foundation. The students were welcomed by Professor Zhong-Ping Feng (Coordinator of Toronto Brain Bee, Department of Physiology), Professor Steve Matthews (Chair, Department of Physiology), and  Sharon Zillmer (Manager, Firefly Foundation).

The Brain Bee competition was hosted by Andrew Barszczyk (Graduate student, Physiology) and Danielle DeSouza (Graduate student, IMS).

Between the first and second rounds of questions, the students visited the Anatomy Museum at the Division of Anatomy, watched a Firefly video presentation of 2011 Toronto Brain Bee, and mini documentaries created with the top 3 competitors that year.

Three short research presentations were given by Rachel Newsome (Barense lab, Psychology), Catharine Mielnik (Salahpour lab, Pharmacology) and Nancy Dong (Feng lab, Physiology).

Trinity College fundraiser ~ 2012


Firefly is honored to be the cause that Trinity College has chosen to support in 2012.

The University of Trinity College, commonly known as Trinity College and informally Trin, is a college of the University of Toronto, founded in 1851 by Bishop John Strachan, and continues to this day to embrace a rich history of tradition. This includes two formal dances each year, the first of which is the Saint's Ball.

This year's theme for the Ball is Alice In Wonderland (or should we say Saint's in Wonderland).  We had the pleasure of meeting students and having dinner with the Saints Executives at the recent Chocolate Dinner with the Queen of Hearts held at St. Hilda's on November 8th. The Saint's Ball is held annually in November and is hosted by Women of College. There are several fantastic events leading up to the Ball including a movie night, trivia night, jousting in the quad, a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and the Saint's Bowl held in the Back Quad the night before the Ball. (Because what Women of College isn't up for a little football the night before the Ball... Good Luck Ladies!!)

And our sincere thanks for your interest and support of the Firefly Foundation.

who won the 2012 brain bee?


The 14th Annual Toronto Brain Bee competition took place at the Medical Sciences Building, on March 30, 2012. A record 77 students from 16 high schools in the Toronto area participated in the competition.

The first place winner David Kim will represent Toronto at the 5th Annual CIHR Canadian National Brain Bee competition, which will take place at McMaster University in Hamilton on May 22, 2012.  In 2011 David placed second and was featured in a Firefly mini-documentary entitled Where Does Your Memory Live?

Jessica Zung placed second for two straight years.  She also worked with Firefly to create a mini-documentary entitled You Can’t Always See What Hurts, and what she has learned about how depression affects your brain.


Following three rounds of questions the top three winners were:

first place:  David Kim from Sinclair Secondary School

second place:  Jessica Zung from University of Toronto Schools

third place:  Sophia Ly from University of Toronto Schools

This year we acknowledged and recognized all of the top ten competitors:

fourth place:  Kramay Patel, from William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute

fifth place:  Himanshu Gupta, from Turner Fenton Secondary School

sixth place:  Michael Liu, from University of Toronto Schools

seventh place:  Guilhong Teng, from York Memorial Collegiate Institute

eighth place:  Elliot Lee, from York Memorial Collegiate Institute

ninth place:  MengYing (Sabrina) Ge, University of Toronto Schools

tenth place:  Melody Guan, University of Toronto Schools

Toronto French School ~ 2011

Firefly was honored to be the charity selected by the Students at the Toronto French School this year to benefit from the amazing Dance Show that took place on January 13th and 14th.  There were three performances in all — two shows in the evening and one on Friday afternoon for the Students of the Junior School.

This show was organized by a small team from the graduating class of 2011.  Danielle, Leela and Oliva… our hats are off to you for doing an outstanding job and making this such a successful event.  The Dancers displayed such talent, and your choreographers had so much to be proud of.  The emcee’s stole the show and the great energy of everyone involved was matched with the enthusiasm of your audience.

This event raised $6,000.00.  Thank you so much for supporting Firefly.  It’s our mission to make Alzheimer’s, an old persons disease, a young person’s cause.  And by bringing Firefly into your school you’ve helped us achieve our goal.

Heather Fraser, the Founder of the Firefly Foundation, gave a short address at the beginning of the show to thank the school for their support and to give a brief update on how the dollars donated in 2009 had been spent.

All donations to the Firefly Foundation have gone into two areas of research.

1.  Early stage proof of concept research being conducted by the CRND at the University of Toronto.  To date Firefly has donated $300,000 and will contribute an additional $100,000 in  2011.

2.  In partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ontario we created the Spark Award.  This award provides financial support to a post doctoral fellow who will be involved in innovative studies that will investigate behavioral and lifestyle practices that reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, or slow its progression.

Firefly is currently involved in developing programs for young people to learn more about their brains.  Our aim is to empower students to become bright lights in their communities as advocates for brain health, and make Alzheimer’s, an old person’s disease a young person’s cause.

bright lights video project

In 2011 we created a series of mini-documentaries called the Bright Lights Video Project, following the top three Brain Bee competitors in the areas of neuroscience they were given the opportunity to study.  We wanted to know more about what fascinates these students about the brain, to gain insights on how to inspire all students to understand and take care of their brains.

Soohyun Park assisted in Dr. Feng’s laboratory in the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto.  Follow her through the lab where she worked with Nasrin Nejatbakhsh (PhD Candidate) to learn how a snail can help scientists understand how cells regenerate and why it is important to protect your brain.


David Kim placed 2nd in the 2011 Brain Bee.  That summer David gave us an inside look at his summer internship at the Memory Lab, working with Dr. Sheena Josselyn's team, exploring how your brain stores memory.

 We followed Jessica Zung, a Grade 12 student from UTS, as she accompanied Sakina Rizvi (PhD Candidate in the Kennedy Lab, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Neuroscience at the University of Toronto) throughout an exploration on how depression affects our brain.

buzzing about the 2011 brain bee


The 13th Annual Toronto Brain Bee competition took place at the Medical Sciences Building, on March 25, 2011.

There were 62 students from 16 high schools in the Toronto area who participated in the competition. Between the first and second rounds of questions, the students visited the Anatomy museum at the Division of Anatomy, watched the video of 2010 National Brain Bee event, and listened to short research presentations from five graduate students.

Following three rounds of questions the top three winners were:

First place: Soohyun Park from University of Toronto Schools

Second place; Jessica Zung from University of Toronto Schools

Third place: David Kim from Sinclair Secondary School

dancing to support our cause ~ 2009


On January 16th, during Alzheimer Awareness month, young bright brains from the Toronto French School chose Firefly as their charity of choice for their annual Dance Show fundraising event. The student-led event sold out with over 200 families and student in attendance and raised $6000 dollars in the process.

The talented dancers and actors had people out of their seats cheering enthusiastically and became the inspiration for the Firefly In-School Program.

“Overall, the students and dancers are the epitome of great brain health; bilingual, fit, and not afraid to take on a challenge. They’re an inspiration to all generations.” As quoted by Heather Fraser, Founder and Chair of the Firefly Foundation. It was the feedback from both students and teachers that become the genesis for high school program targeting teens teaching the merits of good brain health.