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Duncan Watts, founding member of the Microsoft Research Lab, hopes to apply his interdisciplinary approach at Penn as the 23rd Penn Integrates Knowledge professor. (Photo from Duncan Watts)

Duncan Watts, a researcher who uses data science to analyze human behavior, has been appointed the 23rd Penn Integrates Knowledge professor, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett announced Wednesday

Watts will be the Stevens University Professor and will hold faculty appointments in the Wharton School, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Annenberg School for Communication. He will take the position on July 1. 

“I’m looking forward to getting back and teaching,” Watts said, adding that he has not taught undergraduate courses for more than 11 years.

The announcement said Watts is currently a principal researcher and founding member of the Microsoft Research Lab. He also works as an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. Previously, he was a sociology professor at Columbia University.

Gutmann established the PIK initiative in 2005 to recruit professors whose work spans multiple fields. Watts' research uses computer science, sociology, physics, and statistics to study social interaction and learn how information travels across networks.

Watts said he is looking forward to building connections with researchers from different parts of the university as a PIK professor.

“My whole career really I’ve been sort of interdisciplinary,” Watts said. “That’s something that is sometimes difficult to do in a university environment because universities generally are organized around disciplines."

Watts added that he hopes to apply academic research in social sciences to solve practical problems. He believes Penn is a good place to do this, since University founder Benjamin Franklin believed in the importance of practical knowledge.

“The vision that [Franklin] gave the university was really to be a place where knowledge was to have practical applications, and that’s kind of the founding spirit that I think still animates the university,” Watts said.

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