Xiaoxiang Zhu, Professor for Signal Processing in Earth Observation at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), has been selected as the winner of the 2018 Leopoldina Early Career Award. The award, which is granted by the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and sponsored by the Commerzbank Foundation, includes an endowment of 30,000 euros. It recognizes Prof. Zhu's outstanding achievements in satellite-based earth observation for mapping worldwide urbanization and assessing natural hazards.
Xiaoxiang Zhu, born in 1984, has been an Professor in the Department of Civil, Geo and Environmental Engineering at TUM since 2015. The appointment was made jointly with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), where she heads the Earth Observation Data Science department. In her research, she uses satellite-based earth observations to map cities and the changes taking place there.
After climate change, worldwide urbanization is the most important driver of global change. These developments are tracked and analyzed using satellite data. For that purpose, Prof. Zhu has developed new radar processes and data analysis algorithms that combine the satellite data with information derived from social networks. To analyze the massive amounts of data collected from such diverse sources, Zhu uses machine learning with deep neural networks to recognize and assess images. Through this work, Zhu has become a pioneer in applications of deep learning for earth observation.
"At 33, Professor Zhu is already an outstanding, internationally respected scientist in the field of mathematical signal processing and earth observation, specializing in the mapping of urban areas and built infrastructure. She has set an extraordinary pace in her career to date," said the jury in its award citation. Just five years after her first degree, she had completed her doctorate and earned her postdoctoral teaching qualification. When she accepted an appointment at TUM in Munich in 2015 at the age of 30, she was among the youngest professors in Germany.
Zhu studied aerospace engineering in China and completed the Earth Oriented Space Science and Technology (ESPACE) program in Munich. She earned her doctoral degree at TUM in 2011 and her postdoctoral teaching qualification in 2013. For her doctoral thesis, in which she reported the first successful efforts to reconstruct buildings and road networks using radar satellite images, she received the Dimitris N. Chorofas Foundation Research Award in 2011.
In 2015 she won the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, was chosen as one of the "Best Innovators Under 35" by Technology Review magazine, and won the Helene Lange Prize. In 2016 she received the Early Career Award from the IEEE Geoscience & Remote Sensing Society and the Science Award from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). In 2017 she successfully applied for a prestigious ERC Starting Grant. She is a member of the Junge Akademie and the Young College of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.
The Leopoldina Early Career Award of the Commerzbank Foundation has been presented every two years since 2010 at the Annual Assembly of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. It honors young scientists for outstanding achievements in the field represented at the current annual assembly. For purposes of the award, early career achievements are defined as scientific work produced within 10 years of completing a doctorate. The award includes a 30,000 euro endowment provided by the Commerzbank Foundation.