The Human Brain Project

Research Opportunities Available for Psychologists


Few psychologists to date have taken advantage of the Human Brain Project■s many opportunities for research funding in the areas of cognition and information processing, human factors and informatics, and neuropsychology. To encourage psychologists to do so, here is some information on the project, which aims to develop the tools to reduce information overload in the brain and behavioral sciences in the 21st-century.

Conception and History of the Project

The concept of the Human Brain Project was first discussed in the early 1980s, even before the necessary computer technology was available. Clearly, the need for such a project was compelling.

The tremendous breadth of research in the brain and behavioral sciences, from the molecular level to the level of behavior and brain disorders, makes comprehensive knowledge by a single individual almost impossible. The fields of psychological science and neuroscience contribute tens of thousands of researchers who are generating information at all levels of neural organization, and who are publishing their findings in hundreds of journals. However, understanding brain structure and behavioral functions demands that findings from all of these different levels be integrated and synthesized in order to have maximum scientific and, ultimately, practical utility. Fortunately, technology now offers a partial solution to the problems of information overload and integration.

In 1989, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Insttute on Drug Abuse, and the National Science Foundation requested that the Institute of Medicine (IoM) establish a committee of eminent scientists to consider the feasibility of integrating enabling technologies with brain and behavioral research. The evaluation spanned almost 2 years and involved more than 150 scientific consultants who endorsed the idea and also provided several specific recommendations for a long-term initiative. In 1991, the National Academy Press published the recommendations in its book, Mapping the Brain and Its Functions.

The IoM committee recommended that the Human Brain Project be implemented in several phases. Phase I, which began in 1993 with the first program announcement, is currently supporting research and development of prototypical tools essential for the information infrastructure. Phase II will support the refinement of prototypes and will integrate the developed tools.

Examples of Currently Funded Research

The first two rounds of funding resulted in about $5.6 million in research grants, including grants to accomplish the following: The tools that this research generates will augment the ability of scientists to integrate and synthesize information across disciplinary and geographic boundaries, accelerating the understanding of brain function.

Scientists are also exploring ways that the Human Brain Project can dovetail with other major initiatives, such as the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative. Additional efforts to make the Human Brain Project a success are also underway, such as a series of workshops on ethical and sociological issues related to privacy, data sharing, and electronic publishing.

For information or copies of the program announcement, contact Dr. Michael Huerta, National Institute of Mental Health, (301) 443-4885; e-mail: mhuerta@helix.nih.gov


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