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Sep 02, 2010

The Blue Brain Project

As computing power continues to increase, it may ultimately be possible to simulate the functioning of the most complex system of the known universe: the brain. This is the ambitious goal of the Blue Brain Project, the first attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain.

The project is expected to provide answers to a number of fundamental questions, ranging from the emergence of biological intelligence to the evolution of consciousness.

Lead by neuroscientist Henry Markram, Blue Brain was launched in 2005 as a joint research initiative between the Brain Mind Institute at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the information technology giant IBM. Using the impressive processing power of IBM’s Blue Gene/L supercomputer, the project reached its first milestone in December 2006, with the development of the model of a rat’s neocortical column (NCC).


To perform the empirically-based simulation of individual cells, the Blue Gene/L supercomputer uses the NEURON software developed by Michael Hines, John W. Moore, and Ted Carnevale at Yale and Duke. Thanks to this software, processors are converted into neuron simulators and communication cables are converted into axons interconnecting the neurons, which allows to transform the entire Blue Gene into a cortical microcircuit.

In November 2007, the project achieved the completion of its first phase, with the development of a new modelling framework for the construction and validation of neural circuits built from biological data. The project is now striving to simplify the simulation of the column, in order to allow the parallel simulation of multiple connected columns. If this strategy will be successful, the final objective will be to simulate a whole human neocortex, which includes about one million cortical columns.

More to explore:

H. Markram, The Blue Brain Project, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7:153-160, 2006