An international team of more than 200 researchers unveiled the first-ever image of a black hole on Wednesday, April 10. One of the historic developments in the field of Science wouldn’t he been possible without Katie Bouman, a-29-year-old scientist, who developed a crucial algorithm that helped devise imaging methods.
Bouman’s role was to develop a a new algorithm that could stitch together data collected from radio telescopes around the world, effectively turning the entire planet into a large satellite dish in an endeavour called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project.
Bouman didn’t know about black holes till 6 years ago
Bouman didn’t know the first thing about black holes when she joined the team six years ago. Her background was in computer science and electrical engineering, and she got involved in the project while pursuing a PhD in computer vision. Her passion is “coming up with ways to see or measure things that are invisible,” which made her a good candidate for attempting to produce an image of a black hole, a region of space that has a gravitational pull so powerful that nothing, including light, can escape.
According to reports, she helped develop a computer program which helped in creating the image of the black hole. Bouman also headed a testing team that verified the image for the world to see.
One of the pictures doing the rounds on social media is Bouman with the stacks of hard drives on which it was contained.
Computer scientist Katie Bouman and her awesome stack of hard drives for #EHTblackhole image data 😍 — reminds me of Margaret Hamilton and her Apollo Guidance Computer source code. 👩🏽🔬 pic.twitter.com/MgOXiDCAKi
— Flora Graham (@floragraham) April 10, 2019
After the image of the black hole went viral on several social media platforms, many users compared Bouman’s work to the three women who calculated astronaut John Glenn’s flight trajectory in 1962.
Bouman is still starting out in her own career. She has been working on the project while a post-doctoral fellow at MIT and will soon start a job as an assistant professor at Caltech.
She also plans to continue work with the Event Horizon Telescope team, which is adding satellite dishes in space to the network of telescopes here on Earth that were used to produce the image released on Wednesday.