In the latest issue of Science, Katrin Amunts and Thomas Lippert explain how advances in neuroscience require high-performance computer technology, and ultimately, exascale computing power.
“Understanding the brain in all its complexity requires knowledge from several levels – from genomics to cells and synapses to the level of the entire organ. That means working with large amounts of data, and supercomputing is becoming an indispensable tool for tackling the brain, “says Katrin Amunts, Scientific Director of the Human Brain Project (HBP), Director of the C. and O. Vogt Institute for Brain Research, University Hospital Düsseldorf and Director of the Institute for Neurosciences and Medicine (INM-1) at the Research Center Jülich.
It’s an exciting time in supercomputing. We are receiving many new inquiries from neuroscience researchers who need powerful computers to deal with the complexities of the brain. In response, we are developing new tools tailored to study the brain. “
Thomas Lippert, Director of the Jülich Supercomputing Center and Head of Supercomputing in the Human Brain Project
The human brain contains approximately 86 billion neurons that make up trillions of points of contact. Whole brain imaging at cellular resolution produces data on the order of several petabytes; Electron microscopy of a whole brain would add more than an exabyte of data. “Brain research, medicine and information technologies are facing challenges that can only be mastered by combining the forces of all three domains,” says Amunts.
In Europe, the big data challenge in the neurosciences is addressed by the EBRAINS research infrastructure of the Human Brain Project. It provides brain researchers with a range of tools, data and computing services. This includes access to supercomputing systems via Fenix-Federated Infrastructure, which was established by Europe’s leading supercomputing centers as part of the Human Brain Project and will serve communities beyond brain research.
Europe plans to deploy its first two exascale supercomputers within the next five years. They are acquired by the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU), a joint initiative of the EU, European countries and private partners. “The brain research community is ready to use these exascale systems,” says Amunts.
Amunts, K & Lippert, T., (2021) Brain research challenges supercomputing. Science. doi.org/10.1126/science.abl8519.