This image shows the three-dimensional configuration of ten thousand simulated neurons that constitute a single neocortical column—an anatomical unit barely wider than the head of a pin. The neocortical column, believed to be a building block of the cerebral cortex, is a mere millimeter cubed, and is repeated countless times across the expanse of the human neocortex.
Since there is simply no way to gain full experimental insight into a process at this large a scale, the Blue Brain Project was launched in 2005 in collaboration with IBM to produce a computer simulation of it. It is so spectacularly complex that a dedicated state-of-the-art supercomputer is required to keep track of all the phenomena as they recurrently influence one another; even with this computational firepower, it still takes about one hundred seconds to simulate a single second of activity.
In order to make it as realistic as possible, a wide variety of factors in included in the simulation: genetics, the shape of the dendrites, and the neurophysiological characteristics imparted by their ion channel composition. Here we see the Blue Brain’s cortical column in action: Each dendrite is simulated individually and rendered so that its color (ranging from blue to red) represents its voltage at one moment in time.
The long-term goal of the project is to uncover the broad principles of the brain function and dysfunction by simulating the entire brain of mammals, including that of humans.
Zooming Out, Highlighting a Single Neuron
Blue Brain Project video