Atlas of the Human Mind

With $55 million, a collection of frozen human brains and robots capable of processing 192 brain slices a day, the Allen Brain Institute is attempting to do the impossible: systematically map out the expression patterns of more than 20,000 genes that make our grey matter tick.

The science behind the techniques isn’t new. Researchers have probed neurons with specific RNA bits in a revealing game of genetic hide-and-seek for 40 years. But the speed and scope with which they’re tackling the problem with specially-constructed robots that automate most of the data-gathering and analysis is unprecedented. When the Atlas is finished in 2012, scientists will start untangling the whys and hows of our neural network.

Left: This is the ventral view of a fresh specimen before it is processed at the Allen Institute. Fewer than 15 highly distinct individual human brains will provide the data for the Allen Brain Atlas.

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