© Karl-Ludwig Poggemann
© Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

Kiel University reproduces major brain functions

A research team from Kiel University, Germany, has succeeded in the electronic reproduction of two principal operations of the human brain: memory and synchronisation.

The neurons in the brain are linked by synapses, forming a complex network. Additionally, the spatial ability of the neural connections is another important process of information storage and the synchronisation of neural groups. Both these principles, i.e. storing memory content in the synapses and the synchronicity of the neural impulses, have been reproduced using electronic circuitry.

Neurologist at Kiel Professor Thorsten Bartsch said: “In the case of conscious sensory perceptions, the spatial irregular occurrence of neural impulses changes into ordered structures suddenly and for a limited time. There have been discussions for a long time whether the human consciousness is closely linked with this synchronisation of the neural impulses. This may provide the key to gaining a better understanding of brain functions.”

The circuitry used, known as ‘memristors’ (from ‘memory’ and ‘resistor’), is characterised by the dependency of electrical resistance on the charge that has flowed previously. Dr Martin Ziegler, also of Kiel, added: “This method makes it possible to store different circumstances in biological networks, similar to memory devices.”

The researchers connected two oscillators using memristors in their electronic circuit. Oscillators, switches that generate periodic voltage impulses, enabled the researchers to equip an electrical circuit with the same fundamental properties that characterise a biological neural network.

The report, available here, was published in the online journal Applied Physics Letters.