Carnegie Mellon University
May 21, 2021

Michael Andrews Receives Graduate Student Research Award

By Ben Panko

Physics Ph.D. candidate Michael Andrews has received the 2021 Guy C. Berry Graduate Research Award.  

"Michael  is  one  of  the  two  best  graduate students  who  I  have  worked  with  in  my  20+  years  at  Carnegie  Mellon (and I was fortunate to have been able to work with a few really good graduate students)," Professor of Physics and Mellon College of Science Associate Dean for Faculty and Graduate Affairs Manfred Paulini wrote in nominating Andrews for the award. 

Paulini described how Andrews has grown into a self-motivated and dedicated researcher who has independently developed and pursued many innovative ideas.  

"My research involves developing and fundamentally rethinking how to apply artificial intelligence (AI) techniques in physics experiments by running them on 'raw' data instead of the heavily processed variety that more commonly gets used by experimentalists," Andrews said of his work on the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at CERN. "These techniques have resulted in breakthrough tools that are enabling the detection of hidden particles once deemed impossible to detect, paving the way to potential new discoveries." 

This fundamental rethinking comprised harnessing the power of machine learning for particle physics, something that was controversial at first, Andrews explained. 

"What I think is notable about my research is not so much its technical value but more so the shift in mindset that it entailed," Andrews said. "In order to really extract the most out of the detector with AI, we had to reinterpret what we defined as our 'data' and challenge a number of long-held assumptions about how it should be processed." 

Andrews' background coming into physics research is also unorthodox. Originally from the Philippines, he came into graduate school with a business degree instead of a physics degree. What ultimately drew him to study physics was "the search for the fundamental laws of nature — the idea that behind the chaos of the universe there is order and it can be grasped in a handful of equations," he said. While he didn't follow a career into business, that background is still reflected in one of his hobbies — investing and following the investment world. 

In his future work leading to his Ph.D., Andrews hopes to continue to "push the frontiers" of what machine learning can bring to the particle physics world. 

"I followed quite an unusual and trying path into physics, but it all worked out in the end," Andrews said. 

The Guy C. Berry Graduate Research Award is given annually to encourage and recognize excellence in research among the graduate students of the Mellon College of Science. It is named in honor of University Professor Emeritus Guy C. Berry, a leading researcher in the areas of rheology and the light scattering properties of polymers.