In the latest issue of Science, Katrin Amunts and Thomas Lippert explain how advances in neuroscience demand high-performance computing technology and will ultimately need exascale computing power.
“Understanding the brain in all its complexity requires insights from multiple scales – from genomics, cells and synapses to the whole-organ level. This means working with large amounts of data, and supercomputing is becoming an indispensable tool to tackle the brain,” says Katrin Amunts, Scientific Director of the Human Brain Project (HBP), Director of the C. and O. Vogt-Institute of Brain Research, Universitätsklinikum Düsseldorf and Director of the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-1) at Research Centre Jülich.
Katrin Amunts. Image credit: Mareen Fischinger
“It’s an exciting time in supercomputing,” says Thomas Lippert, Director of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre and leader of supercomputing in the Human Brain Project. “We get a lot of new requests from researchers of the neuroscience community that need powerful computing to tackle the brain's complexity. In response, we are developing new tools tailored to investigating the brain.”
Thomas Lippert. Image credit: Sascha Kreklau
The human brain contains around 86 billion neurons that form trillions of contact points. Imaging an entire brain at cellular resolutions produces data in the range of several Petabytes; electron microscopy of a whole brain would amount to more than one Exabyte of data. “Brain research, medicine and information technologies face challenges that can only be addressed by joining the forces of all three domains,” says Amunts.
In Europe, the big data challenge of neuroscience is addressed by the Human Brain Project’s research infrastructure EBRAINS. It provides a range of tools, data-, and compute-services to brain researchers. This includes access to supercomputing systems via the Fenix federated Infrastructure, which has been set up by Europe’s leading Supercomputing Centres as part of the Human Brain Project and will serve communities beyond brain research.
Within the next five years, Europe is aiming to deploy its first two exascale supercomputers. They will be acquired by the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU), a joint initiative between the EU, European countries and private partners. “The brain research community stands ready to use these exascale systems,” says Amunts.
(Text: Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly)
Read the full paper in Science:
The Human Brain Project (HBP) is the largest brain science project in Europe and stands among the biggest research projects ever funded by the European Union. It is one of the three FET Flagship Projects of the EU. At the interface of neuroscience and information technology, the HBP investigates the brain and its diseases with the help of highly advanced methods from computing, neuroinformatics and artificial intelligence, and drives innovation in fields like brain-inspired computing and neurorobotics.
EBRAINS is a new digital research infrastructure, created by the EU-funded Human Brain Project, to foster brain-related research and to help translate the latest scientific discoveries into innovation in medicine and industry, for the benefit of patients and society.
It draws on cutting-edge neuroscience and offers an extensive range of brain data sets, a multilevel brain atlas, modelling and simulation tools, easy access to high-performance computing resources and to robotics and neuromorphic platforms.
All academic researchers have open access to EBRAINS’ state-of-the art services. Industry researchers are also very welcome to use the platform under specific agreements. For more information about EBRAINS, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ebrains.eu.