bright lights in the lab ~ 2017

 Bright Lights in the Lab takes place this year from July 4, 2017 to July 14, 2017.

Please visit our FaceBook page for updates and photos 


Bright Lights in the Lab is the only high school neuroscience summer camp in Canada.  Over the last 5 years over 275 students have attended this camp to conduct open-ended experiments, learn about neuroscience and deepen their lab experience through hands on work, assisted by science teachers and university researchers.

In addition, over the last four years we have trained 15 teachers from Toronto, Guelph, and St. Catherines through internships to prepare and teach at the camp in July.

As the sponsor of the Toronto Brain Bee, Firefly has a keen awareness of students in our community who excel at science but live in at risk neighbourhoods and/or come from families that do not have the financial resources to pay for academic summer camps.  Since 2014 we have received support that enabled us to welcome a total of 36 students through full scholarship (25) or financial aid (11).

In 2017 we received support from Astra Zeneca Canada for 3 full scholarships and the Foundation funded and additional 10 scholarships and bursaries. 

Prior sponsors to this program include Rotman, Fulbright Canada.  We need your support to enable us to continue this tradition in 2018.  

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 brain bee ~ March 2017

Once again we were proud to be the sponsor of the annual Toronto Brain Bee.  This year the competition took place on Friday, March 31st, at the University of Toronto.   Our congratulations to the top 3 competitors: Prerana Keerth (1st place); Yasham Chelliahpillai (2nd place and Syed M. Raza (3rd place). Our thanks to Dr. Feng, Nancy Dong & all the volunteers who worked so hard to make this day possible.

UPDATE:  Congratulations to Prerana Keerthi who placed first a the Toronto Brain Bee on March 31st, and continued on to another victory by placing first at the National Brain Bee at McMaster University on May 27th.. This makes Prerana the top brain in Canada, taking the title after a gruelling final round of 20 questions that had to be answered orally — and in less than seven minutes. We wish you the very best as you travel to Washington in August to the International competition!

the prime minister's award for teaching excellence

PMA Award 2016

In May 2016 Anand Mahadevan received the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.  Firefly nominated Anand for this well deserved recognition based on our experience working with him over the last five years on our summer camp, Bright Lights in the Lab. 

We asked Anand to tell us about what Bright Lights has come to mean to him and here is what he had to say:

Since 2012, I’ve had the privilege of working with the Firefly Foundation on developing Bright Lights in the Lab, Canada’s first research-based neuroscience summer camp for school-aged children.

Children are curious and innovative. They want to know how the world works, and how they are going to find their place within it. Often, this figuring out involves making mistakes. How do we as teachers celebrate these mistakes and encourage our students to keep at the task of changing themselves, thus help bring change to the world they will create?

Scientific Inquiry is an excellent model for learning about the world and oneself through making mistakes. Inquiry refers to the activities of students in which they develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world. Inquiry is a multifaceted activity that involves making observations; posing questions; examining books and other sources of information to see what is already known; planning investigations; reviewing what is already known in light of experimental evidence; using tools to gather, analyze, and interpret data; proposing answers, explanations, and predictions; and communicating the results (National Research Council, 1996).

Bright Lights in the Lab is a summer camp devoted to celebrating failure and providing time and space for students to explore their passion for science. For two weeks in the summer, for seven hours every day, students review current scientific knowledge, pose their own questions, learn to use tools to design their own experiments, and collect data. We pair them with graduate students and post-doctoral candidates, and let them perform research in an environment free of grades and exams. Students realize that science is a collaborative, iterative process that requires both risk-taking and hard work. Brilliant insights can come at any time in the process and to anyone involved in the process.

There are no marks or grades in our camp. Thus, students are free to explore the process of science rather than focus on the product of their research. The research projects are open-ended and student-directed and thus our campers feel they “own” their own learning and thus routinely come early or stay past camp hours to get the most data or the best representation of their results.

We began the camp with 20 students and now have over 60 students sign up each summer. These students come from all around the Greater Toronto Area as well as from the USA and China. Part of our challenge in this collaborative team of teachers from UTS, researchers from the University of Toronto, and our non-profit partners at the Firefly Foundation is to reach out to more students from across Canada, to make time and tools available to all students who want to inquire and grow. For the last two years, we’ve begun offering scholarships to students in the GTA with our partners, the Fulbright Canada/US Embassy Ottawa Community Leadership Program and Rotman Graduate Business Council bursaries. This year with the support of the Rotman School of Management and Firefly’s fundraising efforts we will continue this tradition.

Our hope is to grow both the summer camp and the scholarship program so that students across Canada and in other countries can benefit from camps like this in their cities. Our students dream of being future leaders and change-makers, and my dream is to provide as many students the space and time they need to make their dreams come true.

Works Cited

National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington DC: National Academy Press.

2015 Prime Ministers Award in Teaching Excellence. 

University of Toronto Schools Press Release

bright lights in the lab ~ 2016

In 2016, we welcomed 66 students to our summer camp. With the support of the Rotman School of Management and our own fundraising efforts, 13 students received full scholarships as Bright Lights Scholars and an additional 3 students received partial financial aid.

Our camp has also become a valued source of professional development for teachers. Over the last 4 years, we have trained nine teachers from Toronto, Guelph, Oakville and St. Catherines in the classroom through hands-on training. 

We see this as a way of expanding our Bright Lights network to enable us to scale this camp to new locations in the future.  

Learn more about this year's program for Bright Lights in the Lab.

memories silent auction ~ 2016

Firefly Foundation was thrilled to collaborate with the Rotman Photography Association to host a silent auction celebrating memories through photography.  

The funds raised at this event - combined with the support offered by the Rotman Graduate Business Council and our own fundraising efforts - enabled Firefly to offer a total of 18 students scholarships and financial aid to attend our Bright Lights in the Lab camp in 2016.

Heather Fraser, the Founder of Firefly, acknowledged all of the amazing people who contributed to the success of this event.  

contributors & collaborators

The Rotman Photography Association worked with us to transform their successful LENS competition into a focused effort to raise funds for Bright Lights in the Lab Scholarships. The photographs at the silent auction included winners of their annual competition. Contributing photographers included seasoned professionals with successful careers, as well as Rotman student photographers.

Heather Fraser's daughter, Ceilidh Fraser, designed a book featuring all of the photographers who donated their work to the event.  She is also one of the contributing photographers.

Chris Fraser and the great printing team at Moveable produced the excellent quality book.

Sharon Zillmer, the Firefly Foundation Manager, has been the leader of the Bright Lights initiative since its inception and also helped coordinate this event.

Azadeh Houshmand contributed her artistic eye and ability to make important connections to the initiative.

The support and professional connections of Beth MacKinnon and Fransi Weinstein helped attract a talented crowd to the event.

Last but not least, Heather expressed huge thanks to her parents, without whom the Foundation would not exist. Their memory lives on through our work at Firefly.


Memories is a collection of the photography curated by the Firefly Foundation & the Rotman Photography Assocation for LENS 2016. All proceeds support the Bright Lights in the Lab scholarship program.

a message from our founder

Memories are one of life's greatest treasures.  They are photographs we take with our mind.  Like memories, photographs bring time, place, people and emotion together.  They captivate those who value a glimpse into another world, and give meaning to things sometimes overlooked or taken for granted.

This book is a collection of the work of inspired photographers, both aspiring young photographers and sessions practitioners.  Each photograph represents a special memory, which they are generously sharing with you to sport Firefly's question to keep memory alive.

All proceeds from this book go toward an important Firefly initiative, Bright Lights in the Lab, which you can read more about in this book.  This initiative supports ambitious young students who aim to explore the wonders of the brain, and discover new ways to preserve the power of memory in generations to come.

On behalf of Firefly and the talented photographers who have shared their work and their memories, we invite you to appreciate these memories and create enduring memories of your own.

Stay bright,

Heather McKenzie Anspach Fraser, Founder

brain bee ~ 2016


The 18th Annual Toronto Brain Bee was held at the University of Toronto on April 1st.  This year the event was hosted by Professor Amy Ramsey and the contest was emceed by Sofia Raitsin and Petri Takkala.

awards & acknowledgements

Firefly would like to congratulate all of the students who attended the Bee this year.  There were 17 high schools represented and approximately 75 students in the competition.

First Place competitor Deween Piyasena, who is in Grade 11, attends Stephen Lewis Secondary School.  Deween was competing for the first time this year.

Second Place Prerana Keerthi and Third Place Jay Chen are both in Grade 10 and attend The Woodlands Secondary School.

We would also like to acknowledge the dedication of Dr. Zhong Ping Feng who is the organizer and her team of volunteers who work throughout the year to make this event a success.