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CEE PhD Candidate Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award from the UT Geography Department

Dr. Cheng Liu, a CEE PhD candidate, received his first PhD from UT’s Geography department in 1986. In November he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the department.

His concentration of study was Transportation Geography and GIS (Geographic Information System), but since his degree required not only a geography background but also knowledge in optimization and computer science, he also spent several years studying those disciplines as well.  “Although it took me seven years to finish the program, it was good time invested, and it helped me land my first job with Federal Express working as an operations research analyst, where my main responsibility was developing and maintaining an airline scheduling system,” he says.

After a couple of years with Federal Express, Liu returned to Knoxville to work for Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) where he’s been for more than 25 years.  Soon after he started working for ORNL, he enrolled in a part-time Masters program in the UT Computer Science Department and graduated in 1992. Over the years he has developed various computer systems in the area of GIS, traffic simulation model, and environment modeling sponsored by DOT, DOE, and DOD.

In 2013 Liu started developing a global scale emergency evacuation system. This system can quickly generate emergency evacuation scenarios in a short period of time for anywhere around the world. ( Initially this project required his GIS and Computer Science background, but the more he worked on this project, the more he realized the importance of traffic engineering. Again Liu decided to go back to school to get a second PhD in traffic engineering from the CEE department. “I think one should have more than one branch of knowledge for whatever field he/she is in,” he says.  “Higher education institutions should provide interdisciplinary programs to encourage students to explore different areas of study to help them be ready for the real world.”

Other accomplishments include receiving the Excellence in Applied Geography Award from the Association of American Geographers three times and the Outstanding Public Domain Software Award from the AAG.  He was also a principal developer on the Air Defense Analysis System (ADANS) for which he received an Honorable Mention for the Franz Edelman Award for Excellence in Management Science.

“Cheng is very interested in geovisualization, and much of his work focuses on optimizing over large networks,” said Bruce Ralston, Professor Emeritus of the UT Geography Department who presented Liu with the award. “He is always pushing himself (and me) to stay on the front edge of geospatial technology. Many of us are better off for Cheng’s generosity in sharing his intellectual curiosity and thirst for learning.”

CEE Professor Lee Han is Liu’s current faculty advisor. “He was a committee member for my students for several years, and then he got so excited and intrigued by the idea of doing doctoral research again that he enrolled in the CEE transportation doctoral program,” he says. “Being his advisor has given me an opportunity to learn new and exciting things from him every day.”