Congratulations to everyone who played a March Madness Bracket for Kids STEM Education! This year’s projects ranged from butterfly morphogenesis to providing iPads, microscopes and histology slides to kids, all from high poverty school districts. With 16 funded projects totalling nearly $8,000, the twitter science mafia turned out in droves with over 70 entries. With North Carolina’s win predicted by Rick Bevins, Ph.D., he pulled ahead of the pack to win Darwin’s Balls.  Congratulations, Rick?

Rick Bevins, fish slayer and reigning king of Darwin’s Balls.

Rick’s lab is at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and he’s a long time supporter of Donors Choose, our partner organization for this project. Rick’s research team uses some very cool preclinical animal models to understand the behavioral, neural, and pharmacological factors involved in drug abuse. Rick is also a crazy awesome advocate for his field and has great advice on training in this paper we love.*

Rick says:

“I played Science Buddies for Donors Choose (Darwin’s Ball’s 2017) because this community shares my values for the importance of public education and the need to support these efforts, especially in high-poverty schools, in all of our communities.  A chance for bragging rights among my esteemed colleagues doesn’t hurt either.”  

Special shout out goes to Karen James, Bar Harbor activist, environmentalist, feminist and lover of cute gifs who just figured out how to do a bracket last year. She then steadily climbed the ranks to pull in a stunning second place finish this year. Nice job, Karen!

On the other end of our bracket challenge were Haley Vecchiarelli and Marina Picciotto. If scoring was done NIH style, these two ladies would have crushed their brackets. Haley entered two of the bottom three brackets this year, showing she was a force to be reckoned with for others seeking this spot next year.

Haley is a graduate student in Calgary working with Dr. Matthew Hill where her thesis seeks to understand how the endocannabinoid system is changed by peripheral inflammation and anxiety.

Donors Choose photo of project Darwin’s Balls brackets helped fund.

Haley says: I’m an American in Canada and desperately miss college basketball, so every time March rolls around I’m always looking for bracket challenges. So this seemed like a great way to bridge both March Madness and funding science in schools. I liked that for this challenge the money went toward funding projects, I donated to three of the well deserving projects, and they all were funded which is awesome. Although it breaks my heart that teachers have to crowd funding for things like alternative seating or supplies for making science notebooks. I usually make a few brackets and my ones at the bottom are the which school did my friends go to or would have gone to and one was a general upset bracket. 

Her comments were mirrored by Yale neuroscientist and Editor in Chief of Journal of Neuroscience Marina Picciotto. Of her second to last place bracket, Marina said,

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“I have never had an NCAA bracket before, but what enticed me to play was the idea that I could raise awareness of how a very little investment, like helping Ms. Allison’s class build motors, might inspire kids to get involved in STEM. Take a look at the pictures of this class building their motors!”

Congrats and thank you to all our bracket players. You can see the final round up, including the part where both my brackets beat my boss, Katherine Hartmann’s, here. This is truly one of the most fun things I get to do in my job. Well done, science tweeps! If you want to stay on top of other science challenges, be sure you sign up for The Cutting Edge news on our home page.

*Rick’s paper was published in Behav Anal. <squirrel giggles>

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