Associate Professor Yan Liu

Associate Professor

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Science

Affiliate Academic

Institute for Social Science Research
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+61 7 336 56483


Associate Professor Yan Liu is a Human Geographer and Spatial Scientist, specialising in Geographical Informational Science (GIS), spatial data analytics and complex systems modelling. She is a leading researcher in the development and application of cellular automata (CA) based urban modelling to describe, understand, model and predict urban and human change dynamics and processes. She has also developed spatial analytical approaches and models to address a range of social geographical issues including disadvantage and social inclusion, access to resources and services, human travel behaviours and their interactions with the built environment.

Liu’s research on urban modelling based on complex systems theory and geo-simulation addresses a significant issue in relation to understanding and predicting urban growth. This is an important and rapidly evolving field which has emerged in the past two decades to study the coupled natural and human systems, their spatial evolution and temporal change mechanisms and dynamics. Methodologically, this research has contributed to advance urban modelling by developing fuzzy constrained CA approach and engaging in systematic calibration of CA urban models using both statistical and intelligent optimisation approaches. The CA-based urban modelling approaches she developed have been applied in various geographical and social contexts, including Australia (Sydney, Brisbane and the Moreton Bay Region), China (Shanghai and Ningbo) and Indonesia (Jakarta Metropolitan Region). She has also collaborated with researchers to model and assess other environment and human change processes and interactions, including the development of a predictive model for archaeological sites and cultural landscapes in the Pilbara region in West Australia, koala disease analysis and conservation modelling, and modelling the impact of sea-level rise on coastal environment. She is the lead Chief Investigator on an ARC Discovery Project to develop new approaches to modelling human-environment interactions for sustainable coastal city development based on spatial complexity, cellular automata and agent based models (ARC DP 2017-2019).

Liu has also developed research on applying GIS and spatial modelling approaches in the study of social geographical issues. She has developed spatial accessibility models to evaluate the equality of access to primary health services in Singapore and Australia, mapping of the spatial disparity and mis-location of the private rental housing market in Brisbane and Southeast Queensland, as well as research on human travel behaviours and their interactions with the built environment using both survey and smart card data. She is a Chief Investigator on an ARC Discovery Project to study the nature, causes and outcomes of problems between neighbours (ARC DP 201-2017). In this project Liu has developed spatial data mining and analytical approaches to address this important social and geographical issue with regard to neighbourhood problems using a large scale administrative database of neighbour complaints and other spatial and non-spatial data.

Liu's research is multi-disciplinary in nature whereby output of this research has a wide impact across the physical/environmental science as well as social science. Her current research interest focus on CA and agent based urban modelling as well as integrating spatial data mining and big data analytics to enhance our understanding on social spatial issues, as she believes that spatial approach is a novel focus for cross-disciplinary interaction and research in the social and behavioural sciences.

Research Impacts

The most recent project funded by Australian Research Council (ARC) will integrate several modelling approaches to better understand the effects of human-environment interactions in coastal cities, providing much-needed tools to mitigate risk and improve policy outcomes. The project is cross-jurisdictional and transferable, greatly enhancing our ability to achieve sustainable urban development in the fast-growing, environmentally vulnerable hubs of economic activity that urgently need science-based tools to aid policy-making and increase prosperity.


  • Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, The University of Queensland
  • Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Queensland


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  • (2017) Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

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Book Chapter

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Other Outputs

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

Completed Supervision