'New model may shed light on how our brain works'

Researchers have developed a brain-like network composed of ultrasmall metallic wires, an advance that may lead to new ways for understanding the brain's computation processes.

As part of the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers used the metallic nanowire network to simulate the human brain's electrical activity unique to processes like memorization, learning, and forgetting.

According to the researchers, including those from the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan, systems capable of performing brain-like functions may be effective in advancing brain science.

While fundamental brain components, such as neurons and the junctions between them (synapses), have been studied in detail, many questions about the brain as a collective whole remain to be answered, they said in a statement.

Since live brains are difficult to manipulate in experimental research, the scientists added that the brain remains a "mysterious organ".

In order to overcome these limitations, they developed a system capable of performing brain-like functions to investigate the mechanisms behind cognitive processes.

Using silver nanowires coated with a polymer insulation, the researchers created their complex brain-like network, with a junction between two nanowires forming the synapse.

 

According to the study, the nanowire network, which contains a large number of intricately interacting synaptic elements, forms a "neuromorphic network".

When a voltage was applied to this network, it appeared to "struggle" to find optimal current pathways -- the most electrically efficient pathways.

The research team measured the processes of current pathway formation, retention, and deactivation as electric current flowed through the network.

It found that these processes always fluctuate as they progress -- in a way similar to the human brain's memorization, learning, and forgetting processes.

According to the scientists, the fluctuation also resembled the processes by which the brain becomes alert, or returns to calm.

As a large number of synaptic elements in the network collectively work to optimize current transport, brain-like functions began to be simulated by the neuromorphic network, the study said.

The scientists explained this as a result of self-organised and emerging dynamic processes in the network, similar to the functioning of neurons in the brain during cognitive tasks.

Based on these findings, the researchers are currently developing a brain-like memory device that works on principles different from those used in current computers.

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