Feeds

Swiss neurologists to model the brain

Somebody call the Scarecrow

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
prev story

Whitepapers

Free virtual appliance for wire data analytics
The ExtraHop Discovery Edition is a free virtual appliance will help you to discover the performance of your applications across the network, web, VDI, database, and storage tiers.
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.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
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?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.