Understanding the human brain is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. From new treatment methods for brain diseases, revolutionary information and communication technologies and scientific answers to the fundamental question of what it means to be human - the range of relevant aspects is very broad. "An incredible variety of efforts are being made in brain research. And it is this multiplicity that is, at the same time, a great obstacle. We are generating data and knowledge worldwide but are getting lost in the details", explains Wolfgang Maass, head of the Institute for Theoretical Computer Science at Graz University of Technology. A holistic perspective and integration of all the research disciplines involved in brain research has been missing for a long time.
Taking science further
The "Future Emerging Technologies" EU programme is aiming to find a way out of this labyrinth of details. Set up for ten years and equipped with a budget of 1,190 million euros, the flagship projects are meant to bring together scientific results to a degree never carried out before. Graz University of Technology will play a crucial role in one of two now approved flagship projects - the Human Brain Project. "We are bringing our knowledge of computer science to bear on the central task, which is to decipher the principles of information processing in the human brain. As leader of the Brain Computing Principles work package, we are specifically asking ourselves how neural circuits typically work and whether their way of working can be transferred to computer chips at the nano scale", explains Wolfgang Maass. The work of the Graz researcher is thus crucial to all of the participating 149 partners from 20 countries. Apart from the University of Innsbruck, which is supervising the non-scientific field of "education", the team around Maass is the only one from Austria that was in the project from the beginning. In a later phase of the project, IST Austria will also be joining.
Opportunity for new generation of scientists
The Human Brain Project will open interesting perspectives for a new generation of scientists. "With the project time span of 10 years, we have the opportunity to integrate new talent and offer attractive doctoral positions in an international and multidisciplinary project", emphasises Maass. A declared goal is to inspire more women to get involved in computer science. "Since in the project we are combining computer science with other disciplines which have long been preferred by women, such as biology and psychology, we hope to engender enthusiasm for computer science among talented young women researchers by means of this bridge", continues Maass.