Physics Spotlight  
Chiara Salemi, with ABRACADABRA open, shows the magnet inside.
Photo: Jon Ouellet Chiara Salemi, with ABRACADABRA open, shows the magnet inside.
Photo: Jon Ouellet

Pulling the secrets of dark matter out of a hat

Grad student Chiara Salemi and Professor Lindley Winslow use the ABRACADABRA instrument to reveal insights into dark matter.

Fernanda Ferreira | School of Science
December 2, 2020

On the first floor of MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science hangs an instrument called “A Broadband/Resonant Approach to Cosmic Axion Detection with an Amplifying B-field Ring Apparatus,” or ABRACADABRA for short. As the name states, ABRACADABRA’s goal is to detect axions, a hypothetical particle that may be the primary constituent of dark matter, the unseen and as-of-yet unexplained material that makes up the bulk of the universe.

For Chiara Salemi, a fourth-year physics graduate student in the group of Lindley Winslow, the Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Associate Professor of Physics, ABRACADABRA is the perfect instrument to work on during her PhD. “I wanted a small experiment so I could do all the different pieces of the experiment,” Salemi says. ABRACADABRA, which consists of an extremely well-shielded magnet, is the size of a basketball.

Salemi’s willingness to work on all aspects is unique. “Experimental physics roughly has three components: hardware, computation, and phenomenology,” Winslow explains, with students leaning toward one of the three. “Chiara’s affinity and strengths are evenly distributed across the three areas,” Winslow says. “It makes her a particularly strong student.”

Since beginning her PhD, Salemi has worked on everything from updating ABRACADABRA’s circuitry for its second run to analyzing the instrument’s data to look for the first sign of a dark matter particle.

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