‘Thunder’ helps neuroscientists analyze ‘big data’

July 28, 2014

‘Thunder’ helps neuroscientists analyze ‘big data’

Thunder can operate on a private cluster or on Amazon’s cloud computing services.

According to a report from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), new technologies for monitoring brain activity are generating unparalleled quantities of information. That data could offer new insights into how the brain works, but only if researchers can interpret it.

To help organize the data, neuroscientists can now harness the power of distributed computing using “Thunder,” a library of tools developed at the HHMI Janelia Research Campus.  According to the Freeman Lab, Thunder is a library for analyzing large-scale neural data. It’s fast to run, easy to develop for, and can be used interactively.  It is built on Spark, a new framework for cluster computing.

Thunder hastens analysis of data sets so large and complex they would take days or weeks to analyze on a single workstation.  Janelia group leaders and colleagues have used Thunder to rapidly identify patterns in high-resolution images collected from the brains of active zebrafish and mice with multiple imaging techniques.  The researchers published their findings in one of two reports in the journal Nature Methods.

Notably, the researchers used Thunder to analyze imaging data from a new microscope that the researchers developed to monitor the activity of nearly every individual cell in the brain of a zebrafish as it behaves in response to visual stimuli.  That technology is explained in a companion paper published in the same issue of Nature Methods.

Thunder can operate on a private cluster or on Amazon’s cloud computing services, and researchers can find everything they need to use the open source library of tools here.

Using Thunder, the researchers analyzed images of the brain in minutes, interacting with and revising analyses while avoiding the protracted delays associated with previous methods.


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