assistant professor of astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Education: Ph.D. (astrophysical sciences), Princeton University; B.S. (physics), Tsinghua University, Beijing
Courses teaching: Liu is released from teaching this semester to start up her research group, but in the coming semesters she is likely to teach courses such as
ASTR 406, Galaxies and the Universe, and ASTR 350, Introduction to Cosmology.
Research interests: She develops statistical approaches to exploring the sky. Specifically, her current research focuses on black holes that are commonly found at the centers of most galaxies. Her work helps understand black holes – their origins, growth, how they have affected the evolution of galaxies and how to use them as astrophysical probes for fundamental physics.
“We are thrilled to welcome professor Xin Liu to our faculty,” said Brian Fields, a professor and chair of the department of astronomy. “Her innovative research opens new windows in the study of supermassive black holes that lurk at the centers of most – and perhaps all – galaxies.
“Professor Liu has developed innovative observational data mining methods
that sift galaxy survey data and identify galaxies harboring two
giant black holes. Theses binary systems open a unique window into the evolution of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies. In
particular, professor Liu's work has shown that in many galaxies the
central object is actually a close pair of black holes; these eventually merge and powerfully radiate gravitational waves, which may soon be detected. Her expertise and exciting research add new
dimensions to Illinois’ existing strengths in relativity and black
hole astrophysics, cosmology and galaxy evolution. She also will help Illinois lead the way in the coming Great Survey era, in which
the sky is digitally mapped by projects such as the Dark Energy
Survey and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, both of which are
major campus and international initiatives.
Why Illinois? “Astronomy has entered the big data era,” Liu said. “While we used to play with black-and-white stills, we now work with color movies of the universe, even in 3-D. Extracting physics from this isn’t easy. There are many new and fascinating challenges of conducting research with large astronomical data sets. Illinois astronomy is ideally posed to address them, leveraging the National Center for Supercomputing Application’s pioneering development of cyberinfrastructure environments. For me, this is Hollywood. And I’m very excited to be part of this.”