Unlocking the secrets of brain power

Unlocking the secrets of brain power
July 21, 2015 Lauren Attana

Professor Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky

I work mainly on understanding how our brain supports language based communication but there are many different applications of cognitive neuroscience.

German born and Australian bred, Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky grew up with a natural affinity for linguistics. Bilingual from an early age, Ina says she was predisposed to thinking about how the brain uses language to communicate, which led to a career in cognitive neuroscience. “Most of us take our brain function for granted – we learn to talk, read, communicate and problem solve without giving it a second thought – until things start to go wrong,” said Ina, who today heads up the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of South Australia. “Scientists working in the area of cognitive neuroscience play a critical role in helping understand, prevent and treat conditions that challenge the brain’s cognitive function.

“I work mainly on understanding how our brain supports language based communication but there are many different applications of cognitive neuroscience. Another researcher in our team is studying cognitive neuroscience in relation to ageing, and why some people have very good cognitive ability as they age and why others are disposed to deterioration. We also have someone looking at sleep and how it affects aspects of cognitive performance such as memory and cognitive performance in children’s development. We are ultimately aiming to understand the biological underpinnings of cognitive brain function to pave the way for applications to conditions such as dyslexia, the ageing process and dementia.”

Ina and her team do this by recording huge data sets of brain activity that can then be measured and analysed. With rapid developments in analysis methods, Ina has started to investigate the benefits of eResearch services to ensure her team is not limited by computing capacity when a new technique is available. “There are always new ways to look at brain data and methods are becoming more sophisticated almost on a daily basis. eResearch capabilities such as superior data storage and High Performance Computing, which we can access through eResearch SA, will ensure we can continue to use the latest methods available in our field.

“The hope is that through the use of these technologies, we will be able to achieve some research outcomes that may otherwise not have been possible. That is the attraction of using eResearch tools,” Ina said. Ina has been working with eResearch SA on a two tiered data storage system. “We are producing a lot of data and running out of storage space, so we realised that we needed a different model to deal with the data. Our plan is to use our local University servers for data that we are currently processing, and use a Research Data Storage Infrastructure (RDSI) server through eResearch SA to archive data, while still having the ability to retrieve that data and reanalyse it as needed.” Ina and her team will now be able to move completed studies across to the RDSI server, which will provide 10 terabytes of storage capacity over two years, freeing up space on the local servers.

In addition to improving storage capacity, Ina is keen to have access to more powerful computer processing. “In some cases when we use more complex analysis methods we can’t run them on our own computers because we overload the processing capacity. “These days there is a growing trend for new analysis methods to be available in open source applications, so anyone can access them, as long as you have the processing power to use them. “I don’t want to be in a position where we can’t do a certain type of analysis because we don’t have the right equipment, or enough power,” she said. Ina has started to look into how her laboratory could use eResearch SA’s Tizard super computer, South Australia’s most powerful high-performance computing (HPC) system, to provide her team with additional processing power as needed.

The compute servers making up the Tizard HPC system provide an aggregate total of 40 Teraflops of compute power, making it six times more powerful than eResearch SA’s previous supercomputer. “I have been to an eResearch SA workshop on Tizard and am now working with the team to look at how we can modify our research methods to take full advantage of Tizard’s processing power. “We may even engage a postdoctoral researcher next year with a specific focus in this area.”


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