ASU Origins Project awards first Postdoctoral Prize Lectureship to astrophysicist

Adrian Liu

The Origins Project at Arizona State University awarded its first Postdoctoral Prize Lectureship to Adrian Liu of the University of California, Berkeley. The award, the largest of its kind in the world, is in recognition of Liu’s groundbreaking early career work in exploring the astrophysics of the early universe. It includes a $10,000 prize.

As part of the Origins Project postdoctoral prize lectureship, Liu will spend a week in Tempe in April and will deliver three colloquia and a public talk on his research. The public lecture is at 5:30 p.m., April 8, in the Marston Theater of ISTB4. He will also take part in an awards ceremony and other Origins activities.

Liu is a Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics postdoc currently working on 21 cm (hydrogen line) tomography measurements of the early universe. His research focuses on understanding how our universe came to be what it is today by looking at how hydrogen is distributed in space and time.

“Adrian Liu is the perfect inaugural Origins Project Postdoctoral Prize Lecturer,” said Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at ASU. “Chosen from among 50 distinguished nominees from premier research institutions around the world, he stood out both for the quality of his research and for his superb ability to communicate it.”

“Adrian is already the recipient of prestigious fellowships in his field, including a Hubble fellowship,” Krauss added. “Moreover, he is exploring an emerging frontier in astrophysics that promises to shed light on the origin of all the cosmic structures we see today, from clusters of galaxies on downward, and thus to our own cosmic origin. And if that weren’t enough, he is a superb communicator. For example, he was the first person to get a perfect teaching score in the large courses he helped teach while a graduate student at MIT. It couldn’t be a better beginning for a world-class annual prize series focusing on Origins research.”

“It’s an absolute honor to be chosen for the Origins Project’s Postdoctoral Prize Lectureship,” Liu said. “In astrophysics our interests and goals are closely aligned to those of the Origins Project, in that we seek to understand how our universe works, and where the awe-inspiring astronomical structures that we see today came from. I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity to share my work with audiences at ASU, who will see that rather than being a solved problem, the question of our origins is an exhilarating journey that continues to fascinate scientists today.

“I’m trying to understand how our universe came to be the way it is,” Liu added. “For instance, what was the nature of the first galaxies? In what ways are they different from what we see today? How did they form? One way to answer questions like these is to make really, really good maps of how hydrogen is distributed in our universe. Once we have that, we can work backward and figure out how our universe came to be what it is today by studying how the state and distribution of hydrogen changed over our cosmic history.”

Liu graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 2006. He then attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, obtaining his doctorate in 2012. His dissertation, advised by professor Max Tegmark, was titled “From theoretical promise to observational reality: calibration, foreground subtraction, and signal extraction in hydrogen cosmology.”

Liu has earned multiple teaching awards while a graduate student at MIT, including the Buechner Teaching Prize, the Henry Kendall Teaching Award and the Goodwin Teaching Medal.

The Origins Project postdoctoral prize lectureship is a worldwide competition for the best junior scholar chosen from all countries in any field of study relevant to the Origins Project. In its first year, the competition drew interest in fields including astrophysics, biology, geology, planetary science, history and medical engineering.

“Postdoctoral researchers are the young scholars who most often are behind the groundbreaking discoveries of tomorrow, but they are not often recognized until they are in more senior positions,” Krauss said. “We wanted to provide a significant world-wide recognition for this under-appreciated community, who will become the leaders of the next generation, and at the same time bring these exciting scholars to ASU to interact with our faculty and students, and perhaps forge long-term partnerships. In doing so, we will continue to enhance the mission of the Origins Project to promote new forefront investigations of foundational questions, and also expose the university and the public to the most exciting research being done in the world today."

For more information on the award, visit