Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Common menu bar links

Past Winner
2015 NSERC NSERC John C. Polanyi Award

Dr. Chris Eliasmith

Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Neuroscience and Director, Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience

University of Waterloo

Dr. Chris Eliasmith
Dr. Chris Eliasmith

Simulated brain signals next evolution in human brain research

Dr. Chris Eliasmith has built a computer model of the human brain that makes human-like mistakes, has human-like accuracy, and takes human-like lengths of time to process information. The work could lead to better treatments for brain trauma and Alzheimer’s, as well as advances in artificial intelligence.

Its name is Spaun, and it’s more human-like than any computer today. Developed by University of Waterloo neuroscientist Dr. Eliasmith, Spaun (Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network) is the world’s largest simulation of a functioning brain. And unlike other computer brains, Spaun can mimic the human brain’s ability to see, remember and act.

This internationally acclaimed computer program’s 2.5 million virtual neurons and simulated eye and arm allow it to shift between diverse tasks—from copying human handwriting to finding hidden patterns in a list of numbers. Such tasks will help researchers understand how millions of neurons cooperate to cause behaviour.

Dr. Eliasmith has drawn on his experience in philosophy, neuroscience, systems design engineering and computer science to develop mathematical theories of the brain that will make it possible for scientists to study the behavioural consequences of brain damage in a safe, simulated environment, without damaging a real brain. It will provide new insights into how the brain actually works and potentially revolutionize the way we treat brain disorders.

Dr. Eliasmith’s work has been featured in the BBC, Popular Science, CBC, Wired, New York Times, Science News, Discovery, and Nature just to name a few. He’s also the author of a step-by-step guide, called ‘How to Build a Brain’, which teaches readers how to build their own computer model of the human brain.

Citation: For research in theoretical neuroscience.

Featured Video


Dr. Chris Eliasmith
Dr. Chris Eliasmith
Dr. Chris Eliasmith
Dr. Chris Eliasmith
Dr. Chris Eliasmith
Dr. Chris Eliasmith

Copyright acknowledgement

To distribute or publish photos that appear in the NSERC Top Researchers section of the Media Room:

  • For photos, please provide an acknowledgment to "NSERC" or the "Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada;"
  • For video acknowledgement, please contact Media Relations.
People Discovery Innovation