Prize 2021

Dec. 12, 2021

Winners of the 2021 Misha Mahowald Prize for Neuromorphic Engineering

The 2021 Misha Mahowald Prize has been awarded to two teams of researchers who used neuromorphic principles to build devices that help disabled humans improve sensory and motor interaction with the world.

The Jury found that these two submissions were tied for first place, and have recommended that the teams receive separate prize citations, but share the prize money.

See the 2021 prizes press release or read below for more details.

The Telluride Auditory Attention Team used electrical signals from the scalp to measure auditory attention selection and performance of subjects in a multi-speaker environment. Their results will help hearing-impaired persons to focus attention on a particular speaker under ‘cocktail party’ conditions. This work originated at the 2012 Telluride Neuromorphic Engineering Cognition Workshop and led to the multi-partner institution Cognitively Controlled Hearing Aid project funded by the European Union, which successfully demonstrated a real-time Auditory Attention Decoding system.

A block diagram of the Auditory Attention Decoding (AAD) process

The project is described in: “Attentional Selection in a Cocktail Party Environment Can Be Decoded from Single-Trial EEG” Cerebral Cortex, (2015) 25:1697–1706,

The Telluride Auditory Attention Team members are: Edmund Lalor (Principal Investigator, University of Rochester), James O'Sullivan (Trinity College, Dublin), Alan Power (Trinity College, Dublin and University of Cambridge), Nima Mesgarani (University of California, San Francisco), Siddharth Rajaram (Boston University), John Foxe (University of Rochester), Barbara Shinn-Cunningham (Boston University), Malcolm Slaney (Google Research), and Shihab Shamma (University of Maryland).

This photo of the Telluride Auditory Attention topic area group was taken on the back steps of the elementary school in Telluride in 2013 - the year after the first success with the attention project. It features 5 of the 9 authors on the main paper: Ed Lalor (front and center), James O'Sullivan (the first author, in the red t-shirt beside Ed), and with Malcolm Slaney (back left), Shihab Shamma, and Nima Mesgarani (back right). Malcom holds an EEG cap.
Image from the first AAD demo showing the computational model pointing to speaker 1 based on EEG signals measured from a subject attending to one of two speakers.

The Bionic Arm Team developed neural interfaces that helps control an arm prosthesis for amputees. The sensory interface restores sensory feedback to the brain, and so enables it to provide appropriate motor commands to the prosthesis via a motor interface. Amputees learned to control their bionic arm and developed a sense of touch as if it were their own arm.

The neuromorphic sensory neural feedback was exploited in active motor tasks, which proved that this approach improved users’ dexterity. A subject fitted with a robot hand with touch sensors on several parts of the hand was actuated by remaining arm muscle activity. The subject was able to transfer more blocks (right, top chart, vertical axis) and more unbroken blocks (right, bottom chart, vertical axis) using the neuromorphic feedback nerve stimulation (more rightward on charts) compared to no nerve stimulation (leftmost bar). (Figure from paper).

The project is described in: "Biomimetic intraneural sensory feedback enhances sensation naturalness, tactile sensitivity, and manual dexterity in a bidirectional prosthesis." Neuron (2018) 100.1: 37-45,

The Bionic Arm Team members are: Giacomo Valle (EPFL, Lausanne & Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa), Alberto Mazzoni (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa), Francesco Iberite (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa), Edoardo D’Anna (EPFL, Lausanne), Ivo Strauss (EPFL, Lausanne), Giuseppe Granata (Catholic University of The Sacred Heart), Marco Controzzi (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa), Francesco Clemente (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa), Giulio Rognini (EPFL, Lausanne), Christian Cipriani (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa), Thomas Stieglitz (University of Freiburg, Freiburg), Francesco Maria Petrini (EPFL, Lausanne), Paolo Maria Rossini (Catholic University of The Sacred Heart, Rome), and Silvestro Micera (Principal Investigator, EPFL, Lausanne & Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa)

Photo that includes some of the Bionic Arm Team from a NEBIAS project meeting.
The subject performs dexterity tasks to compare sensory neuron stimulation strategies

Result of the 2021 Mahowald Early Career Award

Unfortunately, despite receiving many submissions, the Jury was unable to make an award in this first year of the MECA. Re-submissions of improved, eligible projects for the 2022 MECA are strongly encouraged. Nominees should take special note of the updated submission guidelines in preparing their submission for the 2022 award.