IBM and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) are embarking on a project to map out the entire human brain, using the power of four racks of IBM's giant eServer Blue Gene supercomputer. The project will create a 3D digital simulation of the brain at the molecular level, and will provide scientists with new insights into several mental conditions. Mapping the human neocortex in this way will require processing speeds of at least 22.8 trillion floating-point operations per second (22.8 teraflops).

The first phase of the project will be to make a software replica of a column of the neocortex or cortex. The neocortex constitutes about 85 per cent of the human brain's total mass and therefore an accurate replica of the neocortical column is the essential first step to simulating the whole brain. The research will also link the genetic, molecular and cognitive levels of brain functions

"Modelling the brain at the cellular level is a massive undertaking because of the hundreds of thousands of parameters that need to be taken into account," said project leader Professor Henry Markram. "IBM has unparalleled experience in biological simulations and the most advanced supercomputing technology in the world. With our combined resources and expertise we are embarking on one of the most ambitious research initiatives ever undertaken in the field of neuroscience."