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2023 Heilmeier Award Lecture: Dr. Dani S. Bassett

May 8 at 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

“On Being Curious”

What is curiosity? Is it an emotion? A behavior? A cognitive process? Curiosity seems to be an abstract concept — like love, perhaps, or justice — far from the realm of those bits of nature that science can possibly address. However, contrary to intuition, leading theories of curiosity from history, philosophy, and psychology are surprisingly amenable to formalization in an emerging branch of mathematics known as network science. Such a formalization allows theories of curiosity to be explicitly tested and validated in linguistic and behavioral data. In understanding the foundational processes of curiosity, we can turn to pressing societal questions that can only be addressed through interdisciplinary work that foregrounds a critical consciousness. How can we practice, mentor, and teach curiosity? In what ways might we value and support diverse curiosities? What is an ethical curiosity?

Dani S. Bassett

J. Peter Skirkanich Professor in Bioengineering and in Electrical and Systems Engineering, Penn Engineering

Dani S. Bassett is the J. Peter Skirkanich Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering, Electrical and Systems Engineering, Physics & Astronomy, Neurology, and Psychiatry. They are also an external professor of the Santa Fe Institute. Bassett is most well-known for blending neural and systems engineering to identify fundamental mechanisms of cognition and disease in human brain networks.

Bassett received a B.S. in physics from Penn State University and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge, UK as a Churchill Scholar, and as an NIH Health Sciences Scholar. Following a postdoctoral position at UC Santa Barbara, they were a Junior Research Fellow at the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind.

Bassett has received multiple prestigious awards, including American Psychological Association’s ‘Rising Star’ (2012), Alfred P Sloan Research Fellow (2014), MacArthur Fellow Genius Grant (2014), Early Academic Achievement Award from the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (2015), Office of Naval Research Young Investigator (2015), National Science Foundation CAREER (2016), Popular Science Brilliant 10 (2016), Lagrange Prize in Complex Systems Science (2017), Erdos-Renyi Prize in Network Science (2018), OHBM Young Investigator Award (2020), AIMBE College of Fellows (2020), American Physical Society Fellow (2021), and has been named one of Web of Science’s most Highly Cited Researchers for 3 years running. Bassett is the author of more than 400 peer-reviewed publications, which have garnered over 40,000 citations, as well as numerous book chapters and teaching materials.

Bassett’s work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Army Research Office, the Army Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Defense, the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Paul Allen Foundation, the ISI Foundation, and the Center for Curiosity.

Bassett has recently co-authored Curious Minds: The Power of Connection (MIT Press) with philosopher and twin Perry Zurn.


May 8
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
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Penn Engineering
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Glandt Forum, Singh Center for Nanotechnology
3205 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104 United States
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