The stated mission of The Rockefeller University is to understand life for the benefit of humanity. In his thesis, Andrea Bocci settles for nothing less than understanding the life of our Universe itself! His goal is to find the Higgs particle, which can be thought of as the quantum of the life force of the Universe. The discovery of the Higgs is the main goal of a huge particle accelerator currently under construction in Europe, in which physicists will look for Higgs particles produced and immediately decaying into two jets of ordinary particles. These jets must be sorted out from the debris of several hundred particles produced in each collision, which is a daunting task considering that only one in a trillion events may contain a Higgs!
In his thesis, Andrea is testing a method of optimizing a jet finding algorithm by looking for jets from the decay of W and Z particles, the carriers of the weak force, produced in association with a gamma-ray in proton-antiproton collisions at the Tevatron, Fermilab's proton-antiproton collider. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack! The method is based, appropriately for a Rockefeller student, on a neural network approach, in which about 20 variables in an event are correlated automatically to produce the best possible result. The computer program must be trained to do this job automatically. Andrea spent years training his computer program, and his results are rewarding. He estimates that by using this method the time needed to run the experiment will be reduced from two years to one. This represents tremendous savings considering the $200 M dollar budget and the time of the 1000 or so physicists involved in running the experiment.
Who is Andrea? Briefly, he graduated from the University of Pisa, and so it is not surprising that he followed the example of the great Galileo in trying to understand the entire Universe! If I were to describe him using a single word I would use "quiet!" He was involved in everything that had to do with the experiment and with the Lab, and everything was done professionally and quietly before you knew it. When he ran the NYC marathon last year, I learned about it only in the last minute. "Just do it" is a motto that was created for people like him.
Andrea comes from a small city in Italy, called Recanati, located just opposite Rome by the Adriatic sea, which is the quietest sea that I ever saw. No wonder!
- "How far from the sea is Recanati?" I asked.
- " It depends on whether you are going to the sea or coming from it," he replies.
- "How come?" said I, thinking of traveling by car.
- "Well, the town is on a hill, and using a bicycle you can kind of roll down to the sea in 20', but it takes 40' to come back."
Mr. President, Mr. Carson and honored guests, it is with great pleasure and personal pride that I present to you Andrea Bocci for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.