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Information and the Brain

Understanding the complex processes in the brain is the key to the more effective diagnosis and treatment of brain diseases. At the same time, information processing paths in humans can provide the basis for interesting new approaches in information technology.

Petaflop-Rechner am Forschungszentrum Jülich


Researchers from all disciplines make use of supercomputers in order to discover how the climate is changing, how proteins are folded in cells, how new semiconductors function or how fuel cells can be improved. Jülich’s approach is to provide a system of complementary computers with a suitable platform for all applications.

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menschliches Gehirn

Human Brain Modelling

The human brain is a gigantic control centre. How do the brain’s some 86 billion neurons exchange information? What are the causes of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or dementia? Scientists at Forschungszentrum Jülich are developing a 3-D model of the human brain. Mathematical models help to simulate the highly complex flows of information both within and between neurons using supercomputers.

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Baum, der Blätter verliert (c): freshidea - Fotolia

Alzheimer's Disease

Today, more than 1.2 million people in Germany suffer from Alzheimer's disease; globally this figure is estimated to be more than 24 million. As the disease progresses, it causes massive nerve cell death in the brain. As a result, patients suffer an increasingly severe loss of memory and other cognitive abilities. Scientists at Jülich conduct research on reliable methods of diagnosis and on potential drugs to treat the disease.

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3-D-Rekonstruktion eines Dendritenabschnitts (blau) mit zwei kontaktbildenden Synapsen (oliv), die synaptische Vesikel (hellgrün) beinhalten.

Signal Transduction in the Brain

The brain is made up of over 50 billion neurons. Among these neurons, there is a lively exchange of information. Sensory input is received, cognitive and emotional processes are coordinated, impressions are stored and orders given. This requires highly complex information strategies and paths. At Jülich, researchers are investigating molecular structures and neurotransmitters that play crucial roles in this information network. Their aim is to understand the way a healthy brain works and use this insight for the early detection of pathological changes and development of treatments.

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image of a brain of a patient who suffered a stroke

Attention Deficit Disorders

Julich researchers have joined forces with physicians and scientists at the university hospitals in Cologne and Aachen in order to help stroke patients or young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To this end, they are using state-of-the-art imaging techniques to investigate the causes of the disorders and develop innovative treatment methods.

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3TMRPET 4UK col 6

Diagnosing Tumors

At Jülich, pharmacologists, chemists, physicists and medical doctors work in close cooperation to refine methods for diagnosing and treating brain tumours and other neurological disorders. To this end, they develop, for example, radioactive pharmaceuticals that accumulate selectively in tumour tissue and can then be located down to the exact millimetre with the aid of positron emission tomography (PET). In addition, they work on the use of new combined devices that enable even more precise diagnosis.

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Tools of Brain Research

Just as telescopes allow us to examine distant galaxies and microscopes reveal the world of the microcosm, the devices used by brain researchers show the structures and functions of the brain. To this end, there are methods for showing the inside of this vital organ without requiring surgery or anaesthesia.

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Artificial retinas, prostheses that can be directly controlled by the patient's nervous system, and biochips that can detect trace elements in air and water, quickly and reliably: this is what Jülich scientists are working at.

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Verspanntes Silizium

Novel Chip Structures

The minute a computer is purchased, a newer, faster and more compact one appears on the market. However, the miniaturization of hardware will soon reach its physical limits. At Forschungszentrum Jülich, innovative structures and materials are developed in order to provide enough processing capacity for the applications of the future. One solution could involve three-dimensional structures, such as nanometre-sized walls or columns on a silicon surface.

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disc with novel storage elements

Resistive Memory Cells

They are the top candidates when it comes to making computers and smartphones more powerful and above all more energy efficient: resistive memory cells. New findings by Jülich researchers could help to establish these nanoelectronic components as data storage units over the next few years. In the more distant future, they may even serve as artificial synapses modelled on biological neurons.

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Das 'Schweizer Taschenmesser' der Nanoelektronik

Spintronics–Counting on the Right Spin

Computers and electronics are the foundations of modern information processing, ranging from the mobile telephone to credit card invoicing. Bits and bytes run back and forth as electron charges between transistors, memory devices and hard drives. The electron's second important property–its spin, on which the magnetic properties of matter are based–has barely been exploited.

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Festplatte mit Lesekopf

GMR: Nobel Prize for Magnetic Sandwiches

Our world has become digitalized. In the global village, data highways are replacing sidewalks and computer servers are simultaneously serving as the intersections and warehouses in which our data packages are waiting to be dispatched. The key prerequisite for millions of users being able to easily access their data from any place in the world, whether email messages, video clips or huge databases, is the enormous storage capacity of today's hard drives. A physical effect – discovered in the labs of Forschungszentrum Jülich – has helped make hard drives in this power class possible.

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Einblick in das Innere von Molekülen mit der erweiterten Rastertunnelmikroskopie

Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy with Hydrogen

A hydrogen molecule attached to the very top of the measuring tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope, in contact with the specimen being viewed, functions like a highly sensitive feeler. This is, in simplified terms, the principle behind "scanning tunnelling hydrogen microscopy" (STHM), which was developed by Jülich researchers. STHM helps scientists to generate even more detailed images on the nanometre scale and thanks to a relatively simple extension of existing technologies, allows them to look inside organic molecules for the first time.

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