Timeline and Achievements


COVID-19 Crisis – A technology providing unconventional supply relief
When the full-scale effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to be understood in early 2020,the EPFL Blue Brain Project and ETH Zurich, as part of the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force, began collaborating with Spiez Laboratory on an online Platform – Academic Resources for COVID-19 (ARC). In a paper published in Frontiers for Public Health, the authors explain how the ARC Platform was set up to be a service to support Swiss diagnostic laboratories that are testing for SARS-CoV-2. The ARC Platform matched requests for critical equipment, reagents and consumable goods required by Swiss diagnostic laboratories involved in combating COVID-19 with supplies available from Swiss academic groups. Since then, with further input from Swiss startup Apptitude SA, the Platform has evolved with the needs of the epidemiological situation and the technology has been open sourced with the purpose to serve public health as a response solution for other countries and communities in the current COVID-19 crisis or in future crises.


October – A step closer to mapping the rodent brain
The rodent Hippocampal formation is one of the most exhaustively studied regions in the mammalian brain but until now, there has not been a comprehensive knowledge base of its synaptic physiology. In a front cover paper published in the journal Hippocampus, researchers at EPFL’s Blue Brain Project present a data-driven approach to integrate the current knowledge on the hippocampal CA1 region using an open-access, comprehensive resource.

July – Blue Brain co-develops COVID-19 Diagnostic Implementation Simulator
With the EPFL Blue Brain Project’s determination to make our computing resources and expertise available for the fight against COVID-19, we brought our experience in software development to team up with the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND). FIND is a global non-profit organization focused on diagnostics, currently co-convening the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Diagnostics Partnership alongside The Global Fund, as a key part of the global response to the pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical to tracking SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19), understanding epidemiology, informing case management, and suppressing transmission. With diagnostics emerging as one of the most pressing issues in the COVID-19 crisis, Blue Brain has collaborated with FIND to develop a Diagnostic Implementation Simulator for SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics. 

July – Blue Brain Nexus Forge: Building and using Knowledge Graphs made easy
A deluge in digital data, the trend for cross-disciplinary and multi-modal scientific investigations along with the tremendous computing power now available, has led to team based, data-driven and data-intensive methods commonly used in science. These advances also come with a set of challenges summarized in the FAIR (1) guiding principles for research data management – make heterogeneous data generated from different contexts, Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Accordingly, Knowledge Graphs have become the go-to key solution across both research and industry to address these challenges.

May – EPFL and ETH Zurich deliver Academic Resources platform for COVID-19
With Switzerland starting to transition out of lockdown, testing for SARS-CoV-2, being a cornerstone of all response strategies, is more important than ever in order to contain the risk of a renewed increase in cases as public life slowly picks up again. Ensuring an adequate number of daily tests for this task requires precise and timely distribution of equipment, supplies and other resources. To support this endeavor, the EPFL Blue Brain Project and ETH Zurich, as part of the National COVID-19 Science Task Force, are collaborating with Spiez Laboratory on an online platform, Academic Resources for COVID-19 (ARC), to match critical support needed by Switzerland’s diagnostic laboratories with the support offered by the Swiss academic sector.

February – Blue Brain enable next generation brain simulations with performance modelling
Scientists at the Blue Brain Project have extended performance modelling techniques to the field of computational brain science resulting in findings that are useful for today and indispensable for the future. In a paper published in Neuroinformatics, we provide a quantitative appraisal of the performance landscape of brain tissue simulations, and analyze in detail the relationship between an in silico experiment, the underlying neuron and connectivity model, the simulation algorithm and the hardware platform being used. Thereby deriving the first analytical performance models of detailed brain tissue simulations, which is a concrete step to enable the next generation of brain tissue simulations.

January – Neuron_Reduce – a brand new tool to simplify complex neuron models.
Blue Brain collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
For the first time, Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Blue Brain Project have formulated a unique analytical approach to the challenge of reducing the complexity of neuron models while retaining their key input/output functions and their computational capabilities. ‘Neuron_Reduce’ is a new computational tool that provides the scientific community with a straightforward capability to simplify complex neuron models of any cell type and still faithfully preserve its input-output properties while significantly reducing simulation run-time.


August – Blue Brain finds the secret to how neurons in the mouse neocortex form billions of synaptic connections
Researchers at Blue Brain have combined two high profile, large-scale datasets to produce something completely new – a first draft model of the rules guiding neuron-to-neuron connectivity of a whole mouse neocortex. Based on these rules, we were able to generate statistical instances of the micro-connectome of 10 million neurons, a model spanning five orders of magnitude and containing 88 billion synaptic connections that will serve as the basis of the world’s largest-scale simulations of detailed neural circuits.

August – Brain finds order amidst chaos
How does the brain find order amidst a sea of noise and chaos? Blue Brain found the answer to this long-standing question by using advanced simulation techniques to investigate the way neurons talk to each other while submerged in a sea of noise and chaos. In a paper published in Nature Communications, we found that by working as a team, cortical neurons can respond even to weak input against the backdrop of noise and chaos, allowing the brain to find order.

August – Blue Brain ion channel study beckons first whole-brain simulation
The Blue Brain Project’s ‘Channelpedia’ is open to brain modellers and pharmacologists everywhere. Pores at the surface of neurons and muscle cells control your every thought, movement; the very beating of your heart. The way the pores behave – that is open, close, or lock for a short time (inactivate) depending on voltage – shapes signals in the form of electrical charge (ions) moving across the cell surface. For the first time, we have mapped the behavior of the largest family of these voltage-gated ion channels: Kv channels. Published in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, with freely available online data.

July – Blue Brain builds the first next-generation models of thalamocortical neurons
In July 2019, Blue Brain announces it has built the first next-generation models of thalamocortical neurons. These digital models of thalamocortical neurons were built using state-of-the art optimization techniques, which directly constrain unknown parameter values with experimental data.

May – Second NM2 Conference Concluded
After the launch in 2017 of our Neuromodulation of Neural Microcircuits NM² Conference series, we concluded a second stimulating, interactive and highly collaborative event. https://actu.epfl.ch/news/second-neuromodulation-of-neural-microcircuits-con/

March – Blue Brain solves a century-old neuroscience problem
In a front-cover paper published in Cerebral Cortex, Blue Brain explains how the shapes of neurons can be classified using mathematical methods from the field of algebraic topology. Neuroscientists can now start building a formal catalogue for all the types of cells in the brain. Onto this catalogue of cells, they can systematically map the function and role in disease of each type of neuron in the brain.


November – Blue Brain Project releases first-ever digital 3D brain cell atlas
Like “going from hand-drawn maps to Google Earth,” the Blue Brain Cell Atlas allows anyone to visualize every region in the mouse brain, cell-by-cell – and freely download data for new analyses and modelling.

The first digital 3D atlas of every cell in the mouse brain provides neuroscientists with previously unavailable information on major cell types, numbers and positions in all 737 brain regions – which will potentially accelerate progress in brain science massively.


In the Autumn of 2018, Blue Brain attended and hosted several outreach events. These included the Cité des Métiers in Geneva where Blue Brain scientists and engineers met STEM students from the Geneva region. During ‘Planète Santé Live’ also in Geneva, thousands visited the Blue Brain stand to learn more about the Project.

At the Campus Biotech, the Project welcomed a delegation of primary and secondary school heads and Neurology students from Slovenia and, The Life Lab Foundation who bought 56 students with a strong interest in Science, from India.

This course explores the latest data, models, and techniques for investigating the different levels of the brain. Find new insights and derive new theories.

Originally, one of Blue Brain’s first domain specific interactive visualization tools, the open sourcing of the latest version of RTNeuron provides a scalable real-time rendering tool for the visualization of detailed neuronal simulations based on cable models. This allows the visualization of neurons, synapses and playback of simulation data as well as other basic geometrical objects.

August – The Blue Brain Portal
– a knowledge space for simulation neuroscience is launched as a public resource
Released in August, the Blue Brain Portal brings together in one place open-sourced software, tools, models and data, both from us and our collaborators. The aim is for this knowledge to be utilized by both the neuroscientific and the wider scientific community to develop the field of simulation neuroscience.

July – Blue Brain project deploys HPE supercomputer for digital reconstruction and simulations of the mammalian brain to advance the understanding of the brain
In July, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced that the EPFL Blue Brain Project had selected HPE to build a next-generation supercomputer for modeling and simulation of the mammalian brain. The new supercomputer, called ‘Blue Brain 5’, will be dedicated to simulation neuroscience, in particular simulation-based research, analysis and visualization, to advance the understanding of the brain.
Click here to read the HPE announcement.


Frontiers hosted its second Data Services Workshop in Brussels on April 24 with this year’s workshop focusing on the application of open research data to support sustainable health initiatives. Drawing lessons from recent successes in the use of big data and artificial intelligence in data-intensive health research, it aimed to discuss policy challenges and actions necessary in Europe to unleash the full potential of open research data in health for the benefit of society.

As part of the ‘cutting-edge technologies and services for data-intensive health research’ session, Samuel presented the Blue Brain Nexus to over 130 attendees from all over Europe (including policymakers, researchers, academics, patient advocates, tech & pharma companies, universities, funders and libraries).

Credit – Samuel Kerrien presenting in Brussels ©️Simon Pugh Photography 

January – Blue Brain Nexus: an open-source knowledge graph for data-driven science
The Blue Brain Project creates and open sources Blue Brain Nexus, which allows the building of data integration platforms. Blue Brain Nexus enables data-driven science through searching, integrating and tracking large-scale data and models.


December – Simulating Biophysical Principles of Functional Synaptic Plasticity in the Neocortex – Blue Brain’s INCITE grant renewed for 2018

In December 2017, Blue Brain’s INCITE grant is renewed for 2018 to provide a further 160 million core hours at the Argonne National Laboratory. INCITE supports computationally intensive, large-scale research projects with large amounts of dedicated time on supercomputers at DOE’s Leadership Computing Facilities. In 2017, INCITE awarded the Blue Brain with 100 million core hours to simulate biophysical synaptic plasticity in reconstructions of the neocortical microcircuit to discover their synergistic functional principles.

July – Blue Brain Project launches three-day conference to kick-start neuromodulation research – NM2
The NM2 Conference was conceived to address understanding the mechanisms by which neuromodulators operate which is both fundamental to Blue Brain’s pioneering work in simulating brain function and dysfunction, and for the global neuroscience community

Leading experts from around the world presented and took part in panel discussions across the three days. Additionally, the NM2 Conference provided a unique platform for students and junior researchers to interact with leaders in the field to collectively take part in shaping the future course of neuromodulatory research.

June – Blue Brain Team Discovers a Multi-Dimensional Universe in Brain Networks
A team of scientists led by the Blue Brain Project used a sophisticated type of mathematics in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience. The team uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.

This research, published in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, has significant implications for our understanding of the brain.
To date the paper has been viewed over 300,000 times.

Two more important papers were also published in June. In a paper published in Cerebral Cortex , we investigated the role of morphological diversity within and across neuronal types on emergent connectivity in a model of neocortical microcircuitry. Our investigation found that the average overlap between the dendritic and axonal arbors of different types of neurons determines neuron-type specific patterns of distance-dependent connectivity, severely constraining the space of possible connectomes. Reimann, M.W., Horlemann, A.-L., Ramaswamy, S., Muller, E.B., and Markram, H. (2017). Morphological Diversity Strongly Constrains Synaptic Connectivity and Plasticity. Cereb.Cortex 27, 4570–4585. DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhx150

In the second paper published in Nature Neuroscience, the group of Idan Segev of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in collaboration with the Cells & Circuits team in the Simulation Neuroscience Division of the Blue Brain, and Tel Aviv University identified a rich cell-type-specific network topology in neocortical microcircuitry. The systematic approach presented in the paper has enabled interpretation of microconnectomics ‘big data’, and provided several experimentally testable predictions. Gal, E., London, M., Globerson, A., Ramaswamy, S., Reimann, M.W., Muller, E., Markram, H., and Segev, I. (2017). Rich cell-type-specific network topology in neocortical microcircuitry. Nat. Neurosci. 20, 1004–1013.
DOI: 10.1038/nn.4576


November – The Project Management Office function is launched under the supervision of Adriana Salvatore, Director of Operations

June – Blue Brain releases Open Source Software providing model parameter optimization for neuroscientists – Blue Brain Python Optimization Library (BluePyOpt)

The Blue Brain Project releases the Blue Brain Python Optimization Library (BluePyOpt)an extensible open source framework for data-driven model parameter optimization that wraps and standardizes several existing open-source tools. The library includes methods for setting up small- and large-scale optimizations on a broad range of compute platforms – from laptops to large cloud-based compute infrastructures.

Van Geit, W., Gevaert, M., Chindemi, G., Rössert, C., Courcol, J.-D., Muller, E.B., Schürmann, F., Segev, I., and Markram, H. (2016). BluePyOpt: Leveraging Open Source Software and Cloud Infrastructure to Optimise Model Parameters in Neuroscience. Front Neuroinform 10.

DOI: 10.3389/fninf.2016.00017

March – The Allen Institute for Brain Science collaborates with the Blue Brain Project to model neurons from mouse visual cortex

On March 3, the US-based Allen Institute of Brain Science released a set of 40 computer models of neurons from the mouse visual cortex, created using tools developed by the Blue Brain Project. Using Blue Brain technology, the researchers were able to reproduce the physiology and electrical activity of the neurons with an extremely high level of detail. For further details click here.

March – Blue Brain wins major award of supercomputing time from DOE

A Blue Brain team, led by Eilif Muller, won a major award of supercomputing time, from the US Department of Energy’s prestigious Incite Leadership Computing Program. The award gives the team an unprecedented opportunity to simulate synaptic plasticity—the process through which brain activity shapes synaptic connections. The study – which will build on Blue Brain’s recently published reconstruction of neural microcircuitry – focused on the impact of plasticity on the detailed organization and functioning of neural networks. The results provided insights, not just to neuroscientists but also to technologists, seeking to implement brain-like learning mechanisms in software and hardware.


December – The Neocortical Microcircuit collaboration portal
The Neocortical Microcircuit collaboration portal is an online public resource of the Blue Brain Project’s first release of a digital reconstruction of the microcircuitry of juvenile Rat somatosensory cortex. Click here to access the experimental data sets used in the reconstruction and the resulting models.

October – Algorithm to predict connectivity in neural microcircuits

Blue Brain published a paper describing a mathematical algorithm that predicts the location of nearly 40 million synapses formed between the neurons in a small block of brain tissue about 100’000 times larger than has ever been analyzed with electron microscopy.
The algorithm uses millions of times less experimental data than would normally be needed using purely experimental methods. The algorithm was developed as part of the Blue Brain Project’s mission to digitally reconstruct the biological detail of the mouse brain and is a companion paper to the team’s paper on the Reconstruction and Simulation of Neocortical Microcircuitry.

Reimann, E.Muller, S.Ramaswamy, H.Markram: An Algorithm to Predict the Connectome of Neural Microcircuits. 2015. Frontiers in Neural Circuits 9 2015, 28.

DOI: 10.3389/fncom.2015.00120

October – Major Milestone achieved – Digital reconstruction of neocortical microcircuitry

Blue Brain reaches a major milestone with the publication of a first draft of the digital reconstruction of neocortical microcircuitry (Markram et al, 2015). The study confirmed the feasibility of building and simulating a digital copy of a part of the brain and demonstrated that multidisciplinary Big Science in the field of neuroscience yields favorable results (82 scientists contributed to the study).

The paper, which appeared in the journal Cell, represents the most complete description of any neural microcircuit to date. It provides a complete digital map of all the cells and synapses in a block of neural tissue and describes simulation experiments replicating a range of previous in vivo experiments. In other words, our digital copy of a part of the brain behaves like a real part of the brain.

Most significantly, this study advances the case for simulation as a useful new method in neuroscience. It proves that we understand the basic properties of the components and interconnections of the brain well enough to be able to reconstruct and simulate certain physiological functions.

Markram et al., Reconstruction and Simulation of Neocortical Microcircuitry. Cell 163, 2015, 456-492.

DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.09.029

August – Blue Brain Team Selected to Participate in Argonne Early Science Programme

The Blue Brain Project’s High Performance Computing Team (HPC) has been selected by the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) to participate in the two-year Theta Early Science Program.
This program will target the porting and optimization at large scale of our CoreNeuron scientific application on ALCF next leadership-class supercomputer prototype, Theta.
This opportunity will allow the HPC team developers to collaborate with Intel, Cray and ALCF HPC specialists to drive the development of CoreNeuron to support four challenging scientific use cases: (a) The analysis of the electrical activity of the mouse brain Somatosensory Cortex, (b) The study of Synaptic Plasticity phenomenon in a mouse brain, (c) The building and simulations of a full mouse brain model and (d) The study of the activity and plasticity of a mouse brain model when embedded into a simulated body interacting within its environment.
Read more – https://www.alcf.anl.gov/news/alcf-selects-projects-theta-early-science-program 

April – Launch of Sino-Swiss Laboratory for Data Intensive Neuroscience

EPFL and the Chinese Academy of Sciences will collaborate on Neuroinformatics platforms, Data and Knowledge integration, algorithms for Brain Reconstruction and Brain Atlas platforms.

Read more – http://english.ia.cas.cn/ne/news/201504/t20150401_145949.html


The Blue Brain Project Computing team continues to improve the efficiency and scope of Blue Brain computing tools and supercomputing infrastructure. A series of publications describe the new tools.

In June, the BBP replaces its previous supercomputer (the BlueGene/P) with a BlueGene/Q machine (Blue Brain 4) hosted at the Swiss National Computing Centre (CSCS) in Lugano. The new machine offers higher performance and expanded memory.

In the same month, Blue Brain, IBM Research and ETH Zürich announce a collaboration to develop a new hybrid memory strategy for supercomputers, matching the heavy memory requirements for reconstructions of large volumes of neural tissue (brain regions, whole brains).

The Blue Brain Project completes validated digital reconstructions of neural microcircuitry in the brain of young rats. Work begins on a major paper, presenting the reconstruction, and on online resources, making the results available to the broader community.


On January 28, the EU Commission announces that it has selected the Human Brain Project as one of its two FET Flagship projects. Work on the project begins in October 2013, with the Blue Brain team playing a leading role. EPFL hosts the project’s first “Summit Meeting”.

The Blue Brain Project is officially granted the status of a Swiss National Research Infrastructure, funded by the ETH Board.

Neural simulations hint at the origin of brain waves

For almost a century, scientists have been studying brain waves to learn about mental health and the way we think. Yet the way billions of interconnected neurons work together to produce brain waves remains unknown. Scientists from Blue Brain and the Allen Institute for Brain Science showed in a paper published in journal Neuron how a complex computer model is providing a new tool to solve the mystery.

M.W. Reimann, C.A.Anastassiou, R.Perin, S.L.Hill, H. Markram, C. Koch: A biophysically detailed model of neocortical local field potentials predicts the critical role of active membrane currents. Neuron, 79(2), 375-390, 2013. DOI: 0.1016/j.neuron.2013.05.023

Two important Blue Brain publications describe the use of Blue Brain Project models to identify and characterize “neuronal clusters” in neural microcircuits, and to predict local field potentials.

R.Perin, M.Telefont, H.Markram: Computing the size and number of neuronal clusters in local circuits, Front Neuroanat. 2013;7:1. Epub 2013 Feb 19. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnana.2013.00001

S.Druckmann, S.Hill, F.Schürmann, H.Markram, I.Segev: A Hierarchical Structure of Cortical Interneuron Electrical Diversity Revealed by Automated Statistical Analysis, Cerebral Cortex, (2012),
DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhs290


In April, the Human Brain Project consortium concludes its preparatory study and publishes a public report. In October the Human Brain Project consortium submits its formal application to become a FET Flagship project. The Blue Brain team coordinates the preparation of the proposal.


In a landmark paper published in PNAS, the EPFL’s Blue Brain Project (BBP) has identified key principles that determine synapse-scale connectivity by virtually reconstructing a cortical microcircuit and comparing it to a mammalian sample.  These principles now make it possible to predict the locations of synapses in the neocortex.

S.L.Hill, Y.Wang, I.Riachi, F.Schürmann, H.Markram: Statistical connectivity provides a sufficient foundation for specific functional connectivity in neocortical neural microcircuits, PNAS, Published online before print September 18, 2012.  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1202128109 

Watch the video


At the Neuroscience 2012 conference in New Orleans, the Blue Brain Project presented more than 20 posters, describing a first reconstruction of the rat cortical column

This enormous poster series displayed the building of the cortical column model from the bottom up – including the reconstruction of the neuron types to attain their morphologies (called the M-types), the establishment of their electrical patterns (called the E-types), the combination of M- and E- types to get the ME-types, the placement of neurons, the connectivity and interaction between neurons and how all of this goes in to produce the unifying Blue Brain cortical column model.

Click here to watch the series of short videos – The Unifying Cortical Column Model Poster Series.


In January, the European Commission informs the Human Brain Project consortium that it has been selected to perform a preparatory study. Work on the study begins in May, coordinated by members of the Blue Brain Project.

The Blue Brain Project hires new engineers and scientists. In November, the enlarged team moves to new office space in the EPFL Innovation Park. The Blue Brain Project publishes several high impact papers describing new methods to generate cell models and in silico studies of virtual brain tissue.


The Blue Brain Project drives the formation of a Consortium to participate in the European Commission’s newly launched FET Flagship Programme. In December, the new consortium applies to the Commission to fund a large scale research project – the Human Brain Project. The goal of the new project is to understand the human brain and its diseases and, ultimately, to emulate its computational capabilities. A key objective is to reconstruct and simulate the whole human brain. The approach described in the project proposal builds on the methods and tools developed in the Blue Brain Project.


In June, thanks to the CADMOS initiative, the Blue Brain Project’s BlueGene/L supercomputer is replaced by a BlueGene/P, with double the number of processors . The new machine represents a major increase in Blue Brain computing power.

“In silico” experimentation is in full swing, testing the behaviour of Blue Brain Project models against results from other research groups. The results provide new insights into the principles underlying the construction of neocortical microcircuitry.


The Blue Brain team tests the accuracy of its model-building against anatomical and physiological data from laboratory experiments. In June, an article in the HFSP Journal summarizes the on-going debate on the size and location of functional cortical columns



In January, Prof. Henry Markram presents the Blue Brain Project to the Davos forum.

In October, Blue Brain paper – A Novel Multiple Objective Optimization Framework for Constraining Conductance-Based Neuron Models by Experimental Data was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2007.
DOI: 10.3389/neuro.

November 26, marks the end of the first phase of the Project, which announces the completion of an initial model of the rat cortical column.



In February, the project takes shape. An article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience by Prof. Henry Markram describes the project’s goals and methods.

During the summer, the BBP team generates its first model of a cortical column, using a simplified neuron model.



In June, the EPFL and IBM sign an agreement to launch the Blue Brain Project (BBP). The agreement provides for the installation of a BlueGene supercomputer on the EPFL campus.