Comparative performance of the finite element method and the boundary element fast multipole method for problems mimicking transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

Aung Thu Htet, Guilherme Bicalho Saturnino, Edward H. Burnham, Gregory Noetscher, Aapo Nummenmaa, Sergey N. Makarov*

*Corresponding author for this work

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A study pertinent to the numerical modeling of cortical neurostimulation is conducted in an effort to compare the performance of the finite element method (FEM) and an original formulation of the boundary element fast multipole method (BEM-FMM) at matched computational performance metrics. We consider two problems: (i) a canonic multi-sphere geometry and an external magnetic-dipole excitation where the analytical solution is available and; (ii) a problem with realistic head models excited by a realistic coil geometry. In the first case, the FEM algorithm tested is a fast open-source getDP solver running within the SimNIBS 2.1.1 environment. In the second case, a high-end commercial FEM software package ANSYS Maxwell 3D is used. The BEM-FMM method runs in the MATLAB 2018a environment. 
 In the first case, we observe that the BEM-FMM algorithm gives a smaller solution error for all mesh resolutions and runs significantly faster for high-resolution meshes when the number of triangular facets exceeds approximately 0.25 M. We present other relevant simulation results such as volumetric mesh generation times for the FEM, time necessary to compute the potential integrals for the BEM-FMM, and solution performance metrics for different hardware/operating system combinations. In the second case, we observe an excellent agreement for electric field distribution across different cranium compartments and, at the same time, a speed improvement of three orders of magnitude when the BEM-FMM algorithm used.
 This study may provide a justification for anticipated use of the BEM-FMM algorithm for high-resolution realistic transcranial magnetic stimulation scenarios.
Original languageEnglish
Article number024001
JournalJournal of Neural Engineering
Issue number2
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Neuromodulation
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Numerical Modeling
  • Finite Element Method
  • Boundary Element Fast Multipole Method
  • Comparison

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