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Meet The 29-Year-Old Computer Scientist Who Helped Capture The First Image Of A Black Hole

Meet The 29-Year-Old Computer Scientist Who Helped Capture The First Image Of A Black Hole

Dr. Bouman is a member of the Event Horizon Telescope team, which is a project that is working towards creating a database from all the functioning global telescopes.

A 29-year-old researcher Katie Bouman is no ordinary woman. The scientist developed an algorithm that could stitch together an image of a black hole. Dr. Bouman, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, worked on the algorithm for close to six years, ever since she was a graduate student at MIT. Presently, Dr. Bouman is a member of the Event Horizon Telescope team, which is a project that is working towards creating a database from all the functioning global telescopes.



 

 

Dr. Bouman is one of the three dozen scientists on the team who are working towards an algorithm to process the data that is collected by the Event Horizon Telescope project. The global-level project consists of astronomers, mathematicians, and engineers who have been gathering data by observing two very prominent black holes: Sagittarius A* at the center of the Milky Way as well as an even larger black hole in the center of the supergiant elliptical galaxy Messier 87.



 

 

The imaging of a black hole is a massive breakthrough in astrophysics, which has been praised by Dr. Bouman's alma mater, the Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. They praised the fact that her breakthrough algorithm helped capture the first ever images of a black hole and compared her to the infamous Margaret Hamilton, another MIT alumnus who wrote an algorithm that helped put man on the moon. The Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab posted a picture of the two scientists side-by-side, cementing Dr. Bouman's importance in the history of astrophysics. 



 

 

A picture of Dr. Bouman's sheer delight the moment her algorithm captured the first image of a black hole took the internet by storm. The image also shows the first image of the black hole appearing on Dr. Bouman's screen. The first image of a black hole wasn't as grand as the movies play them out to be. The image has been likened to the Eye of Sauron, lava-doughnut, and even classical paintings such as a Rembrandt. 



 

 

The final image is a composition of several other images collected as a part of the Event Horizon Telescope Project. In a 2016 interview with MIT News, Dr. Bouman explained why a project like this was required to capture the image of a black hole. "A black hole is very, very far away and very compact," she explained. "(Taking a picture of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy is) equivalent to taking an image of a grapefruit on the moon, but with a radio telescope. To image something this small means that we would need a telescope with a 10,000-kilometer diameter, which is not practical because the diameter of the Earth is not even 13,000 kilometers."



 

 

At the time of this interview, Dr. Bouman was a part of the MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the MIT Haystack Observatory. Essentially, the scientist's algorithm helped in creating a program that would stitch data together which has been collected from telescopes located all over the Earth. This is a huge step for female scientists everywhere! Congratulations, Dr. Bouman!



 

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