After revamping, the project dropped its original goal of complete brain simulation to focus on advancing brain sciences with computational science.
The project also started hosting supercomputer-powered online research platforms on the Collaboratory for researchers to virtually collaborate in 2016. This infrastructure enabled the development of advanced software and complex brain simulations by providing cloud-based platforms for collaboration and data storage, as well as data analytics, supercomputers and modeling tools.
In 2018, the platform host transitioned from the project to EBRAINS as an upgraded and permanent version powered by new E.U. neuroscience supercomputing centers. EBRAINS is intended to serve as the backbone for a pan-European online neuroscience research platform after the project ends. Through EBRAINS, the project’s research data, models, tools, and results will be made accessible for further research.
THE HBP ONLINE FORUM
To complement the research platforms, the Human Brain Project Forum was launched in July 2015 to facilitate informal collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Users discussed both project-related activities and broad neuroscience programming challenges on this public forum. All topics and discussions could be viewed freely online, and anyone could make an account to post a question or comment on an existing thread. Opening the forum to the public was intended to facilitate the exchange of results and expertise with outside researchers to help achieve the project’s ambitious goals.
We wanted to know if the forum succeeded in its goal of connecting researchers both within and beyond the project community. To answer this question, we examined patterns of user interaction and problem-solving on the forum from when it opened in July 2015 through March 2021. We measured user interaction by collecting data on all posted questions and replies, linked with available user information on the site or via public search. To analyze what factors facilitated collaborative problem-solving, we examined the solution status of the questions and users within each thread.
We found that the average interaction within each posted thread is comparable to Stack Overflow, a popular Q&A website for programmers. On average, each Human Brain Project forum thread received 3.7 replies compared with 1.47 replies per question on Stack Overflow. Despite a drop in usage during early 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, forum use rose substantially in late 2020 and early 2021.
Questions about programming related to the project’s core research areas gathered more attention, active discussion, and faster resolution. While questions that attracted users from many countries are discussed more actively, they took longer to resolve. Problems with administrator support were solved faster overall. Patterns of online interaction did not significantly differ by project affiliation status, gender or seniority level.
Overall, the forum appeared to be an inclusive online community that fostered collaboration.
DIGITIZING THE LIFE SCIENCES
There is a need to partially digitize the traditionally more laboratory-based life sciences. The U.S. Department of Energy highlighted this need when it created the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory in 2020, a consortium of national laboratories that uses supercomputer facilities to help scientists coordinate a united response against the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the long-term impact of the project may not be fully understood, the Human Brain Project Summit 2023 from March 28 to 31 is set to provide a venue for open discussion with the broader community on what the HBP has achieved. Institutional support for neuroscience research can yield tremendous returns, but it remains unclear how to best design scientific organizations and use digitization in the process. We believe studying the science of science research could help achieve the collaboration and shared goals these initiatives seek.