Oct. 28, 2022

Young Researchers Event meets HIBALL in Croatia: new digital tools to study the brain


On 25th October 2022, the 7th ever Human Brain Project (HBP) Young Researcher’s Event took place in Zadar, Croatia. HBP and EBRAINS together with the University of Zagreb, School of Medicine and HIBALL invited the entire scientific community, in particular early career researchers, to join the event on-site and online. During this one-day free hybrid event, participants learned more about topics like big data analytics, human brain atlasing, and computational neuroscience in interactive plenaries and hands-on workshops. 

The event took place in conjunction with the 6th BigBrain Workshop - From microstructure to functional connectomics.

Our co-organiser HIBALL: The Helmholtz International BigBrain Analytics and Learning Laboratory is an HBP Partnering Project that aims to transform the well-known BigBrain model to its next level by reinforcing utilization and co-development of the latest AI and high-performance computing (HPC) technologies for building highly detailed 3D brain models. HIBALL is a German-Canadian collaboration of Forschungszentrum Jülich and McGill University, that works closely with MILA in Canada and Helmholtz AI in Germany. It is jointly funded by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the Canadian Healthy Brains and Healthy Lives Program.

The participants were welcomed by Miloš Judaš (School of Medicine University of Zagreb) and HBP scientific director Katrin Amunts (Forschungszentrum Jülich).

137 attendees from 33 countries participated in a versatile scientific programme, more than 50 people joined on-site (including speakers) and around 80 participants watched the sessions online.  Most participants came from Germany, Italy, Canada, and India. 23% out of on-site participants, were attendees from HIBALL Canada (McGill), 31% from Forschungszentrum Jülich, and 21% from Croatia and surrounding countries.

Plenary sessions introduced participants to diverse topics

During two plenary sessions experts from the HBP, HIBALL, and University of Zagreb followed the subtitle of the event: new digital tools to study the brain.

Topics included an introduction to the HBP and EBRAINS, insights in the EBRAINS Data and Atlas services, BigBrain data processing, postnatal development of the human brain, cortical folding as well as an overview of HIBALL activities and related international initiatives presented by Alan Evans (Director, McGill Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (MCIN) and Scientific Director, Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives at McGill University). Those presentations were complemented by flash talks of early-career researchers from the HBP and the University of Zagreb. 

In the afternoon, parallel hands-on sessions invited participants to explore the EBRAINS Atlas services, CBRAIN, and DataLad as tools to process and manage BigBrain-related data and the Enigma Toolbox, an open-source Python/Matlab ecosystem for accessing 100+ ENIGMA datasets, visualising data on brain surfaces, and contextualising neuroimaging findings at the microscale and macroscale. Each participant was able to attend two out of those three hands-on sessions.

Collection of feedback by the participants

To conclude the day, Jan Bjaalie was moderating an interactive feedback session, which led to the following interesting results:

83% that joined the Slido poll of this session stated that they are satisfied with the event. When asking for “What kind of support are you missing in the context of your research work?” the most mentioned keyword was “training”, then “funding”, “data”, “equipment”, and “community contributions”. The most helpful EBRAINS services were rated with 65% Atlases, 61% Data & Knowledge, and 30% Medical Data Analytics.

General concept of the Young Researchers Event format

Young Researchers Events have been planned annually since 2016 to provide a setting where the EBRAINS Research Infrastructure, the Project’s tools and results are presented to early career scientists as well as to a wider scientific community. Young Researchers Events aim at introducing EBRAINS offers to relevant academic communities, the event is hosted in collaboration with local partners from relevant target countries. As part of the collaboration, local partners are invited to cover some of the programme slots to present their research. To establish a “bridge” around Europe, institutions from all parts of Europe were targeted, a special focus was given to institutions that are relevant to the HBP and EBRAINS but haven’t been exposed to our offers yet. Young Researchers Events have been conducted in Hungary, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Serbia, Denmark, and now Croatia. One event during the pandemic also took place virtually in collaboration with the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences.

This time the focus was on collaborating with HIBALL, McGill University, Forschungszentrum Jülich, and the University of Zagreb. Further liaisons on educational activities with HIBALL are planned.

On behalf of the HBP Education Programme and the Programme Committee we want to thank all speakers, hands-on session tutors, chairs, and participants – without them this successful event would not have been possible.