Feeds

Swiss neurologists to model the brain

Somebody call the Scarecrow

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Swiss scientists are plotting to develop a three dimensional model of the human brain, specifically of the circuitry in the neocortex. Researchers at IBM and The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) will build the model using IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer. The goal is to gradually expand the model until it encompasses the entire brain.

Having a working model of the brain, or even the incredibly complex neocortex, should help researchers understand processes like thought, perception and memory. The simulations could also shed light on how and why particular parts of the brain malfunction, leading to a better understanding of autism, depression and schizophrenia.

Columns of neurons in the neocortex

The neocortex is unique to mammals, and accounts for around 85 per cent of the mass of the human brain. It is thought to be responsible for our higher cognitive functions, such as language, learning, memory and complex thought.

According to Henry Markram, the EPFL professor heading up the project, said the collaboration is one of the most ambitious initiatives undertaken in neuroscience: "Modelling the brain at the cellular level is a massive undertaking because of the hundreds of thousands of parameters that need to be taken into account," he said.

Markram expects the simulation to accelerate the pace of brain research, with a lot of the pre-testing and planning done "in silico" rather than in the lab. "With certain simulations we anticipate that a full day’s worth of wet lab research could be done in a matter of seconds on Blue Gene," he added, in the rather charming language of the discipline.

The model of the brain will be based on 10 years of the wet lab experiments and research that Markram has been a part of at EPFL. The IBM researchers will use this data to build the model of the electrochemical interactions of the human brain on four racks of Blue Gene. The machine will have a very respectable peak processing capacity of 22.8 Teraflops, and will take up about the same space a four fridges.

The model of the brain is just one of the projects allocated time on the machine. Other teams will use Blue Gene to investigate how plasmas might be used in energy production, and how the folding of proteins plays a role in diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human variant of BSE, or mad-cow disease. ®

Related stories

Puny human takes on chess-playing supercomputer
IBM outfits blade servers with cheap middleware for the masses
Met Office powers up new supercomputer

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.