MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2014

Danielle Bassett

Physicist

Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation, Department of Bioengineering

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Age: 32 at time of award

Published September 17, 2014

Danielle Bassett is a physicist using tools from network science and complex systems theory to enhance our understanding of connectivity and organizational principles in the human brain. Combining a strong background in physics with training and collaborations in neuroscience, Bassett adapts mathematical approaches associated with the study of complex networks (such as computer or social networks) to analyze interactions among neurons in different regions of the brain while a person does certain activities (e.g., learn something new or try to remember a face), thereby unraveling how these connections give rise to the functions or jobs the brain performs.

With her standard-setting work on graph theoretic characterizations of interconnections within the brain—and, importantly, how those connections change over time and under varying conditions—Bassett determines the specific relationship between network organization and cognitive ability. Using brain imaging data of people learning a motor task over three distinct time periods, Bassett and colleagues found that a person’s ability to learn can be predicted based on the brain’s flexibility, or the ability of different areas of the brain to connect in different combinations, and precision in identifying existing brain functions that can be used to accomplish the new behavior.

Bassett complemented this work on dynamic reconfiguration of brain networks over time by illustrating how functional connectivity in the brain is modified by memory and language processing, and by psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. With additional lines of research focused on dynamics in social and physical networks, including decision making among large populations during evacuations and sound propagation through granular materials, Bassett is not only revealing new insights regarding learning, disease diagnostics and therapeutics, and treatment of brain injury, but she is also making contributions to disciplines as far-ranging as cell biology, materials science, and social systems.

Danielle Bassett received a B.S. (2004) from Pennsylvania State University and a Certificate of Postgraduate Study (2005) and Ph.D. (2009) from the University of Cambridge. She was a postdoctoral associate (2009–2011) and a Sage Junior Research Fellow (2011–2013) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, before joining the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where she is currently the Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in the Department of Bioengineering. Her scientific papers have appeared in such journals as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Neuron, Physical Review E, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, and Chaos, among others.

Photos

High-resolution photos for download. Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Right-click on a link below to save the file to your computer.

For More Information

Website: www.danisbassett.com

On Twitter: @DaniSBassett

Danielle Bassett In the Media

MacArthur Fellows Discuss Their Work on reddit thumbnail

MacArthur Fellows Discuss Their Work on reddit

In a series of online question-and-answer sessions, MacArthur Fellows have discussed their work via “ask me anything” (AMAs) sessions on reddit. Read More
"The Genius of Learning" thumbnail

"The Genius of Learning"

Nautilus
Danielle Bassett, 2014 MacArthur Fellow
Read More
"How Your Brain Handles Multitasking thumbnail

"How Your Brain Handles Multitasking

Red Orbit
Danielle Bassett, 2014 MacArthur Fellow
Read More
"Brain Knows How to Stop Thinking, Start Learning" thumbnail

"Brain Knows How to Stop Thinking, Start Learning"

Los Angeles Times
Danielle Bassett, 2014 MacArthur Fellow
Read More
"The Math of Brain Networks" thumbnail

"The Math of Brain Networks"

The Wall Street Journal
Danielle Bassett, 2014 MacArthur Fellow
Read More

About the Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Learn More

Juan Salgado, Community Leader

Class of 2015

21 Extraordinarily Creative People Who Inspire Us All: Meet the 2014 MacArthur Fellows thumbnail

21 Extraordinarily Creative People Who Inspire Us All: Meet the 2014 MacArthur Fellows

“Those who think creativity is dying should examine the life’s work of these extraordinary innovators who work in diverse fields and in different ways to improve our lives...” Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows Program. Read More
"Five Myths About the MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’" thumbnail

"Five Myths About the MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’"

Commentary by Cecilia Conrad originally published in the Washington Post Read More
Mobility Among Highly Creative People: What Data About MacArthur Fellows Reveal thumbnail

Mobility Among Highly Creative People: What Data About MacArthur Fellows Reveal

Data compiled for the first time show that creativity blossoms everywhere; MacArthur Fellows were born in 64 countries, 47 states, and Washington, DC, and they are far more mobile than the general population. Read More