Friday, 19 April, 2019

Katie Bouman: The woman behind the first black hole image

The first-ever image of a black hole was released Wednesday The first-ever image of a black hole was released Wednesday
Cary Marshall | 11 April, 2019, 21:52

Bouman was a graduate student in computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when she first led an worldwide team of astronomers creating the world's largest telescope to take the first image of a blackhole.

"We've been busting at the seams about what we've seen, but we had to keep our mouths shut", said Bouman, 29, a doctoral graduate of MIT who continued her studies at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

"Computer scientist Katie Bouman and her awesome stack of hard drives for #EHTblackhole image data", Nature News writer Flora Graham tweeted with an image of the two MIT computer scientists side by side.

"The image shown today is the combination of images produced by multiple methods".

Bouman also led the development of a new algorithm to produce the first-ever image of a black hole as a grad student at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory three years ago. Trying to capture an object that has a gravitational pull so powerful that not only light can escape would intimidate many but for Bouman and her team, it was all part of the fun.

Bouman was commended by many on Wednesday, with some heralding her as a role model for women in science and math fields.

Bouman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told CNN, "No one of us could've done it alone".

That's where Bouman's algorithm - along with several others - came in.

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"No matter what we did, you would have to bend over backwards insane to get something that wasn't this ring", Bouman said. They were tasked with essentially hitting go on a supercomputer that would combine the data from each telescope and finally reveal the image the world was anxiously waiting to see.

Bouman told The Washington Post that when she first head of the Event Horizon Telescope project, she "hardly even knew" what a black hole was, but she did know it was a challenge she wanted to work on.

To put the challenge into perspective, the black hole that was captured, known as M87 is larger than the size of our entire solar system, it's about three million times the size of the Earth.

On Wednesday, almost a year after scientists at the Black Hole Initiative in Cambridge applauded their discovery in private, Bouman and 200 other scientists - many of them from the Boston area - finally could speak about what many astronomers and others had thought impossible. It's thanks to her and a huge team of other scientist and engineers that we can really begin to understand the incredible phenomena of black holes. No one algorithm or person made this image, it required the unbelievable talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work to develop the instrument, data processing, imaging methods, and analysis techniques that were necessary to pull off this seemingly impossible feat.

Does a black hole seem like the internet's usual meme fodder?

"BBC News, Could Katie get a mention in the article itself and not just a credit on the photo?" wrote one user.

The finding confirmed the existence of massive black holes that some skeptics had continued to doubt, even as science fiction and the entertainment industry have used them to captivate and terrify the earthbound.

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