Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Using computers to explore the brain

Purkinje cells are among the most complex neurons in the brain. They can fire enormously fast, generating 100 spikes in activity every second. Hundreds of thousands of Purkinje cells are located in the cerebellar cortex, and each of these cells receives inputs from up to 200,000 other neurons.

"That just tells you how densely wired the brain is – it's a complex grid of connections," says biologist Dieter Jaeger. His lab is working at the forefront of computational neuroscience. He uses software to make 3D models of neurons from rat brains, and then applies differential equations to these models to simulate neural processes via the Emory High Performance Compute Cluster.

"We're trying to figure out the essence of information processing in the brain, and find clues to help cure diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's," says Jaeger. He compares the work of mapping the brain's processes to that of the early explorers of the Earth: "We're still finding new continents as we go."

Jaeger is one of the featured speakers in this week's workshop on Computational Modeling of Complex Human Systems. You can meet him and Emory scientists from a range of disciplines involved in computational modeling at a reception this afternoon, from 4 to 6 pm., in Cox Ballroom.

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