Using Big Data to Research Brain Functionality

March 29, 2016 / By: Dr. Chih Lai
Brain MRI Scan slice

When German native Jurgen Ommen ’15 decided to pursue his master’s degree in software engineering at the University of St. Thomas, he quickly found a research opportunity with professor Dr. Chih Lai. Together they analyzed and predicted brain functionality from fMRI scans. The data, obtained from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), provided fMRI scans from 500 patients. Each scan produced a brain network of 8.1 billion links between 90,000 brain regions. Analyzing the trillions of brain connections turned into more than a challenging task.

By studying various HCP reports and asking questions in the online HCP user group, Ommen mastered the complex relationships among the hundreds of components published with the HCP project.

The project also required setting up a computing platform on Amazon Cloud to analyze the big data. Ommen helped Lai prepare a grant proposal submitted to Amazon, which they were awarded.

View the University of St. Thomas Brain Neural Connectome Analysis site at

Last summer, Lai and Ommen published and presented their preliminary results at the International Conference on Brain Informatics in London. Because of his experience and his big data courses, the Neuromodulation Division of Medtronic invited Ommen to work as a summer intern to help build a brain simulation network on a big data platform called Hadoop.

In July (2015), Ommen successfully defended his master’s degree project on brain analytics, graduated, and was recruited by and hired as a software engineer at Amazon's Seattle office, where Ommen now works and lives.

Jurgen Ommen outside in Seattle WA 550 pixels wide

Jurgen Ommen poses outside his work place at in Seattle, Washington.