Researchers outline how advances in neuroscience demand high-performance computing technology

In the latest issue of Science, Katrin Amunts and Thomas Lippert explain how advances in neuroscience demand high-performance computing and will ultimately need exascale computing power.

“Understanding the brain in all its complexity requires understanding at multiple levels – from cells and genomics to the whole-organ level. This means working with large amounts of data and supercomputing is becoming an essential tool to study the brain,” says Katrin Amunts who is the Scientific Director of the Human Brain Project (HBP) Director of the C. and O. Vogt Institute of Brain Research, Universitatsklinikum Dusseldorf and Director of the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-1) at the Research Centre Julich.

It’s an exciting time for supercomputing. We receive lots of new requests from scientists from the neuroscience community who require powerful computing to deal with the brain’s complexity. We are responding by developing new tools that can be used to examine the brain.

Thomas Lippert, Director of the Julich Supercomputing Centre and leader of supercomputing within the Human Brain Project

Human brains are home to 86 billion neurons, which make trillions upon trillions contact points. Imaging the entire brain at cellular resolutions yields data that ranges from several Petabytes; electron microscopy of the entire brain could yield more than an Exabyte of data. “Brain research, medicine and information technologies have problems that can only be resolved by bringing together the forces of all three domains,” says Amunts.

In Europe, the issue of big data in neuroscience is addressed by the Human Brain Project’s research infrastructure EBRAINS. It provides a range of tools that offer data-, as well as compute-services to brain researchers. This includes access to supercomputing systems through the Fenix federated Infrastructure, which has been set up by Europe’s leading Supercomputing Centres as part of the Human Brain Project and will assist communities outside of the field of brain research.

In the next five years, Europe is aiming to deploy its first two exascale supercomputers. They will be taken over by the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU) which is a joint initiative that is a collaboration between the EU, European countries and private partners. “The brain research community is ready to utilize these systems on exascale,” says Amunts.

Journal reference:

Amunts, K & Lippert, T., (2021) Brain research challenges supercomputing. Science.

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Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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