For decades Henry Markram has dreamed of reverse engineering the human brain. In 1994, as a postdoctoral researcher then at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany, he became the first scientist to “patch” two living neurons simultaneously—to apply microscopic pipettes to freshly harvested rat neurons to measure the electrical signals fired between them. The work demonstrated the process by which synapses are strengthened and weakened, making it possible to study and model how the brain learns. His work landed him a position as senior scientist at the prestigious Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and by the time he was promoted to professor in 1998, he was one of the most esteemed researchers in the field.
Then he began to get frustrated. Although researchers worldwide were publishing tens of thousands of neuroscience studies every year, neither our understanding of basic brain functions nor our ability to treat brain disorders seemed to be progressing much. Markram's consternation was also deeply personal. While he was still in Germany, his son Kai had been diagnosed with autism. As he told The Guardian in 2013, he wanted “to be able to step inside a simulation of my son's brain and see the world as he sees it.” The only way to do that, he reasoned, was to go beyond individual experiments with behaviors, diseases and brain anatomy and instead model the circuitry of the entire human brain./.../