Brain Mind Institute, EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland
Title: The Blue Brain Project
Abstract: Simulation-based research has become possible and has replaced experiments in several sciences when critical mass is reached in experimental data and computing power. In life science in general, and in neuroscience in particular, both data and computing requirements are however extreme. The Blue Brain Project is pioneering a strategy to build a facility that can absorb biological data and drive the computing needs that would support simulation-based research for brain research. The first challenge in the project was to database, reconstruct, simulate, visualize and analyze a neocortical column of a 2 week old somatosensory rat cortex at cellular level precision. The facility now allows the building of the neocortical column (and any detailed neural models) according to biological specifications and is designed to allow continual refinement of the biological accuracy. The process of building the model column has exposed fundamental principles of circuit design and operation that were not known before and the models can be used to replicate experiments and explore in silico far beyond the technological limitations imposed on experiments in order to make predictions for future experiments. The next phase of the project aims to allow biological refinement down to the molecular level and to expand the facility to allow whole-brain simulation-based research. The rapid increase in computational power and increased volume and quality of data representations of biological processes will allow progressively deeper exploration of the complexity of the brain and more detailed hypothesis testing. We conclude that simulation-based research is a viable new approach to understanding the structure, function and dysfunctions of the brain.
Bio sketch: Dr.Markram discovered a groundbreaking watershed synaptic learning principle that underpins learning and memory processes. He is the Project Director of the Blue Brain Project, Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Technology and co-Director of EPFL's Brain Mind Institute (BMI). At the BMI, in the Laboratory for Neural Microcircuitry, Markram has continued his work to unravel the blueprint of the neocortical column, building state-of-the-art tools to carry out multi-neuron patch clamp recordings combined with laser and electrical stimulation as well as multi-site electrical recording, chemical imaging and gene expression.
The neocortical microcircuit exhibits computational power that is impossible to match with any known technology. Deriving the blueprint and its operational principles could therefore spur a new generation of neuromorphic devices with immense computational power. The ultimate aim of the ambitious Blue Brain Project is to simulate the brains of mammals with a high level of biological accuracy and study the steps involved in the emergence of biological intelligence.