Human Brain Project’s EBRAINS Shares Laptop-to-Supercomputer Brain Simulator

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EBRAINS, a new digital research infrastructure set up by the EU-funded Human Brain Project, has made available a brain simulation software, called NEST 3, for use in fields such as neuroscience and robotics. NEST 3 is designed to enable a better representation of entire populations of neurons and to optimize simulator performance.

“NEST 3 boosts the productivity of brain scientists by making it much easier to construct complex network models in the computer,” the organization said in its announcement. “Using NEST 3 a single line of code can achieve what required dozens of lines of code in earlier versions. This allows researchers to explore a wide range of model variants and makes it easier to validate models, contributing reliable and reproducible research. Performance improvements enable ever larger simulations, including the efficient storage of steadily growing amounts of simulation data.”

NEST, under development since 1995, is a command line tool for simulating neural networks. It’s designed to allow users to build networks of model neurons inside a computer and simulate it. By modifying neurons and the connections between them, scientists can explore how the properties of the network elements influence its activity.

NEST focuses on the dynamics, size and structure of neural systems, rather than on the exact morphology of individual neurons, the organization said. This allows modelling extremely large systems to observe how complex networks behave under different conditions, while retaining cellular resolution. It is ideal for networks of any size and is openly available to download.

NEST 3 is designed to serve a range of users, from student researchers with laptops to established scientists with access to supercomputers, according to the Human Brain Project. In fact, the organization said developer efforts have prepared NEST 3 for the upcoming era of ultrafast exascale supercomputers.

“NEST is the leading tool for neuronal network simulation focusing on network dynamics and a reference tool in its field,” said Hans Ekkehard Plesser, president of the NEST initiative and

leader of the EBRAINS High-Level Support Team. “The combination of the NEST 3 simulator, NESTML modeling language and the NEST Desktop user interface provide a powerful combination of tools for cutting edge neuroscience and education.”

NEST Desktop is a graphical interface to brain simulations with NEST. Originally conceived as a teaching tool at the University of Freiburg, NEST Desktop has matured to production use through a Human Brain Project partnering project and is now available as an online tool on EBRAINS.

The NESTML modeling language is designed to allow scientists to extend NEST with new models of nerve cells and connections between them, allowing them to explore new ideas and concepts in brain science.

The NEST Server, released together with NEST 3, in intended to provide a flexible interface to the NEST simulator kernel, allowing NEST to provide simulation services to NEST Desktop and the EBRAINS Neurorobotics Platform as well as enabling large-scale NEST simulations on HPC systems from the EBRAINS Collaboratory.