If scientists could diagram every connection, collectively known as the “connectome,” they’d have an anatomical map of brain function and, for the first time, a detailed way to understand what mistakes in this biological wiring cause neurological disease and psychiatric disorders. But given that there are more than 100 trillion synapses, well, that’s kind of a lot of work. It’s also exactly what the Open Connectome Project is making possible.
Like the Hopkins Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which seeks to map every object in the heavens, the Open Connectome Project leverages crowdsourcing and cloud computing to do large-scale science.
It was born on a cocktail napkin when Burns met neuroscientist Josh Vogelstein, a postdoc in the Whiting School’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, at a dinner in March 2010. “Josh had this vision of an open connectome, and I had experience managing large datasets”—laying the groundwork for an ideal collaboration, says Randal Burns, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and director of the Hopkins Storage Systems Labs.
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