In a nutshell: Describes MASSIVE, equipment for collecting, processing, visualising and storing the huge amounts of brain image data that are part and parcel of modern neuroscience.

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The big picture:

Industries from marketing to financial services are amassing vast quantities of digital data. With ever more powerful brain imaging, neuroscience is no exception.

Take Computed Tomography. A single CT scan captures over 2000 images in under a minute – equivalent to tens of thousands of smart phone photos — requiring tens of gigabytes storage. Multiply that by the hundreds of scans that go into the typical brain study, and it easy to see why processing the data is beyond the capacity of most computers. This is where facilities like MASSIVE come in.

MASSIVE, for the Multi-modal Australian ScienceS Imaging and Visualization Environment, is one of a growing number of neuro-computing facilities around the globe. Indeed, the success of The European Union’s Human Brain Project and the US-based BRAIN Initiative will depend in large part on the development of supercomputing technologies and novel neuroinformatics.

MASSIVE gets brain image data directly from MRI machines, electron microscopes, CT scanners, and other imagers from around Melbourne, and increasingly across Australia, including from the Australian Synchrotron. Two powerful computers at its heart provide a combined 170 teraflops of processing power – almost 2000 times the speed of a desktop computer. A desktop interface and cloud computing means that neuroscientists can use MASSIVE from their offices.

Facilities like MASSIVE owe much of their prowess to online gamers, whose demands for ever more immersive virtual environments have driven innovation in visualisation technology. For example, MASSIVE has 148 Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) – standard computers have just one.

Those speeds are a game-changer for brain research. Neuroscientists can collect and examine information about the living brain in near real time, and even watch changes in the brain of a person lying in an MRI scanner as they complete different tasks, tasks that can be modified according to what appears on the scan.

Next steps:
In the near future, neuroscientists will be able to visualise their data even more effectively. MASSIVE, along with similar facilities, will connect directly to virtual environments that allows researchers to view 3D projections of their brain images.

Goscinski, W. J., McIntosh, P., Felzmann, U., Maksimenko, A., Hall, C. J., Gureyev, T., Thompson, D., Janke, A., Galloway, G., Killeen, N. E. B., Raniga, P., Kaluza, O., Ng, A., Poudel, G., Barnes, D. G., Nguyen, T., Bonnington, P., and Egan, G. F. (2014). The multi-modal Australian ScienceS Imaging and Visualization Environment (MASSIVE) high performance computing infrastructure: applications in neuroscience and neuroinformatics research. Frontiers in Neuroinformatics 8.

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