2 UC Berkeley researchers recognized in Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30 in Science’ list

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Two UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellows, Aaron Meisner and Liang Wu, were recognized in Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30 in Science” list Tuesday.

The prestigious list made its debut in 2012 and features 600 young visionaries in 20 industries, including science, healthcare, enterprise technology and sports. Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher in the physics division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was recognized for co-founding Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Wu, also a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley Lab, was recognized for his contributions to the materials sciences field.

Launched in February, Backyard Worlds enlists the help of citizen-scientists, or members of the general public, to detect celestial objects such as brown dwarfs and potential planets. The online program utilizes five years’ worth of images from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, telescope.

According to Jacqueline Faherty, a member of the project, Backyard Worlds “would not be possible without Aaron at all.”

“He takes care of our citizen-scientists, which is the only way this project ends up working,” Faherty said. “They need to feel like they’re really a part of something, and Aaron welcomes them in and works with them individually.”

One of the factors Forbes takes into account when evaluating candidates for its “30 Under 30” list is the “number of people impacted,” a fact that Meisner believes contributed to his nomination. The citizen-science approach is conducive to this criteria, Meiser said, as Backyard Worlds has received contributions from about 120,000 unique users from 167 countries and has received both national and international coverage.

“He always seems to be two steps ahead of everyone else,” said Marc Kuchner, principal investigator of Backyard Worlds.

Wu was recognized for finding direct evidence of the magneto-electric effect — which states that applying an electric field can lead to magnetization — in topological insulators. Topological insulators behave as insulators in interior, although their thin surfaces can conduct electricity. According to Wu, these insulators could have remarkable applications to solar cells and infrared detectors.

Wu obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics from Nanjing University, as well as a master’s degree in physics and a doctorate in condensed matter and materials physics from Johns Hopkins University. In July 2018, he will become an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania.

According to Wu, his passion for physics stems from his interest in math. Wu wanted to apply his mathematical knowledge to the material world, and he decided that physics would be a balanced combination of math and application.

“What really distinguished Liang was his ability to take abstract, esoteric ideas and figure out how to apply them to (the) messy, everyday world of material physics,” said N. Peter Armitage, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University and Wu’s former doctoral adviser.

Joseph Orenstein, Wu’s postdoctoral advisor and a campus professor of physics, called Wu’s work ethic and intellectual curiosity sources of “inspiration” for him and his group members.

“I believe … he will continue to be a leader in quantum materials research,” said Arielle Little, a colleague of Wu’s at Berkeley Lab, in an email.

Amber Tang covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ambertang_dc.