Eliasmith receives Polanyi Award for brain research

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chris Eliasmith, a Waterloo systems design engineering graduate and professor, has been recognized with this year's John C. Polanyi Award by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). 

The award honours an individual or team whose Canadian-based research has led to a recent outstanding advance in the natural sciences or engineering. The Polanyi and other prestigious NSERC awards were presented by David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, at a ceremony held February 17 at Rideau Hall.

Eliasmith and his multidisciplinary team at Waterloo's Centre Chris Eliasmithfor Theoretical Neuroscience have created Spaun, the world's largest model of a functional brain. More human-like than any computer today, Spaun can mimic the human brain’s ability to see, remember and act.

photo courtesy of NSERC

The next evolution in brain research

The internationally-acclaimed computer program’s 2.5 million virtual neurons and simulated eye and arm allow it to shift between diverse tasks – from copying human handwriting to finding hidden patterns in a list of numbers. Such tasks will help researchers understand how millions of neurons cooperate to cause behaviour.

On the medical side, Spaun has the potential to shed light on the impact of Alzheimer’s disease and help pharmaceutical researchers predict the effects of potential new treatments.

“I think it’s something that really might revolutionize how we do drug testing, and come to understand the effects that chemicals have on behaviour,” predicts Eliasmith, the Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Neuroscience.

His technology has been featured on the BBC, the Discovery Channel and the CBC, and in publications such as Wired and the New York Times, just to name a few. It’s also included in his new book  How to Build a Brain, which explains how to build computer models of the human brain. 

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