European Mega-Project Develops Methods to Simulate the Human Brain
The detailed simulation of the human brain on a supercomputer, from genetics to the molecular level to the interaction of entire cell clusters – this is the visionary goal of the Human Brain Project, in which several RWTH institutions are participating. On January 28, 2013, the European Commission announced that the highly ambitious ten-year initiative is one of the two large-scale research projects to receive funding from the European Union, within the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship Program. The costs of the project are estimated at one billion Euros.
The research community involved in the project is delighted about this decision. “The structure of the human brain and its functional processes are not yet fully explored in many areas,” explains Professor Frank Schneider, Director of the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics at RWTH Aachen University. “Within the EU funding program, it becomes possible to pool the scientific expertise necessary to investigate and represent both the spatial organization of the brain and its processes on all levels and in all their complexity.”
In future, the virtual model of the brain will make it easier for physicians and scientists to understand the structures and processes of both the healthy and the diseased brain and to develop new treatments and therapies. As Schneider emphasizes, “this funding decision marks a decisive step forward for those with psychological and neurological impairments and their family members – it will lead to a better understanding and improved treatments.”
The EU Funding Project Pools Scientific Expertise From Over 80 Research Institutions
The Human Brain Project brings together neuroscientists, psychiatrists, neurologists, computer scientists, physicists, and mathematicians from over 80 European and international research institutions from 22 countries. It is coordinated by Prof. Dr. Henry Markram from EPFL, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
Apart from RWTH psychiatrists, several visualization experts from the University’s Virtual Reality Group at the Chair of Computer Science 12 and the Center for Computing and Communication are involved in the project.
According to Professor Torsten Kuhlen, head of the Virtual Reality Group, “we visualize all the data generated by the simulation, from the cellular level to neuronal clusters to the different areas of the brain. The extremely large amount of data is used to generate a representation that can be interactively analyzed by the neuroscientists, making it possible for them to gain new insights."
In order to simulate neural networks of the complexity of the human brain, a performance is needed that exceeds the capabilities of today’s supercomputers by the factor of 100. For this reason, the teams around Frank Schneider and Torsten Kuhlen not only collaborate with the neuroscientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich, but also with their colleagues from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC). The JSC is currently developing extremely powerful ExaFLOPS computers, whose enormous processing power is required by the Human Brain Project.
Close Cooperation Between RWTH Aachen, Forschungszentrum Jülich and the Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA) Pays Off
For several years now, RWTH Aachen and Forschungszentrum Jülich have been collaborating in the so-called Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA). The fruitful cooperation is now a significant factor in the success of the involved institutions in the European large-scale project. In the JARA-BRAIN section, physicians, psychologists, neuroscientists, physicists and computer scientists from both research institutions combine top-level basic research with clinical expertise for improved prevention, diagnosis and treatment of psychological and neurological diseases such as depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson's disease.
In the JARA-HPC section, scientists conduct research on computer simulations using high-performance computers for a broad range of applications. In this context, the human brain, a complex information processing system, can be considered an adequate model for an extremely powerful and energy-efficient computer: for its highly complex processing and transmission of information, the brain uses less energy than a 60-watt light bulb.
Prof. Dr. Torsten Kuhlen, Virtual Reality Group, Chair of Computer Science 12 / Center for Computing and Communication, Tel. +49 241 80 24783, E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Dr. Dr. Frank Schneider, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Tel. +49 241 80 89633, E-Mail email@example.com