By now most of the world has seen the incredible photo revealed April 10th by the Event Horizon Telescope Project and the National Science Foundation. Though the scientific world bubbled with excitement over the first ever image of a black hole, no one could be as excited as the team who worked tirelessly to make it happen.
After the reveal we were graced by this picture, which shows lead scientist Dr. Katie Bouman in the moments that her algorithm pulled together the image of the supermassive black hole inside the core galaxy Messier 87:
“Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed.” She captioned.
The excitement and joy that her face emanated is infectious – you can feel it through the photo. But what do we know about this 29 year old doctor, who has surely accomplished more than most individuals before 30?
Let’s get to know her better, as she is surely one to keep watching.
Dr. Bouman is an American imaging scientist, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the California Institute of Technology, and a a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. It was her algorithm that made the visualization of the black hole possible. The Algorithm was published in April, 2019 and is known as the Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors, or ‘CHIRP’. She started with her theory that black holes leave a background shadow and added the data gathered from the eight telescopes. With her algorithm to fill in the gaps, she helped her team achieve their incredible feat.
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She started imaging research with Purdue University professors in high school and it was only up from there. A graduate from MIT and a member of MIT’s Haystack Observatory, she joined as a postdoctoral fellow on the Event Horizon Telescope Imaging team six years ago. When she joined, she didn’t know anything about black holes. She brought computer science to the table, not astronomy knowledge. But her knowledge brought new ideas to the table, and the collaboration was an obvious success.
2016 she was gearing up for the amazing photo feat with a Tedx talk, seen here:
Dr. Bouman, ever classy, gives highly deserved praise to the team she worked with:
“No one of us could’ve done it alone,” she told CNN. “It came together because of lots of different people from many different backgrounds.”
Though there were many people involved in the project, more than 200, Dr. Katie Bouman is important for women in STEM. Time goes into detail:
On Wednesday, a picture of Bouman sitting in that tiny, hot room circulated on social media, along with reminders that it is important to acknowledge women scientists. Though Bouman was one of several women who worked on the Event Horizon Telescope team, the majority of her colleagues on the project were men. And while that doesn’t make her any more deserving of applause — Bouman emphasizes that the project was “a team effort” — it does make her a potential role model for young girls who lack examples compared to their male peers. Overall, studies suggest that only about 30% of the world’s researchers are women.
We are sure to see more of this remarkable woman in the future, and I am excited to follow her career going forward. She let’s us know that she will continue work with the Event Horizon Project, and her next goal is to create video of black holes – not just still photos. We’re 100% here for that.
Margaret Hamilton (top) next to the code she wrote for Apollo 11 in 1969. 50 years later, Katie Bauman (bottom) in front of 5 petabytes of data generated by her algorithm for connecting telescopes around the world to take history’s first #blackhole photograph. #WomenInSTEM cont’d pic.twitter.com/Lr6XcQMqWU
— Michael Hainsworth (@hainsworthtv) April 10, 2019
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