Penn Prof Named a MacArthur “Genius“

Danielle Bassett uses network science to study how we learn.

Danielle Bassett, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Penn, is a recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant,” the foundation announces today.

The Inquirer reports that Bassett uses network science to study how we learn.

Those with flexible brains — meaning they are adept at trying various strategies and forging connections — seem to be the best at acquiring new knowledge, she said. This agility can be seen on brain scans as they learn a task such as tapping a sequence of keys on a keyboard, she said.

The daughter of an artist and surgeon, Bassett uses a dance metaphor to describe the phenomenon of watching connections form between regions of the brain, each one 1 to 3 centimeters across.

“You might dance with one partner for a while, and after a while you’re going to switch and dance with a different partner,” she said. “That’s kind of the way brain regions work as well. You can actually watch these switches happen.”

It’s the second straight year a Penn faculty member has received a genius grant: Angela Duckworth, an associate professor of psychology, was honored in 2013.