Sunday, 13 October, 2019


Meet Katie Bouman, the woman behind first black hole photo

Katie Bouman's work was key to the first ever Katie Bouman's work was key to the first ever
Kristine Garrett | 08 October, 2019, 08:28

She led the development of an algorithm as a Graduate Student at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory that made the first photogragh of the Blackhole possible.

Instead, she developed an algorithm called Continuous High-Resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors (CHIRP), which uses a process called interferometry that combines the signals detected by telescopes to interfere with one another.

According to the Event Horizon Telescope website, "This long-sought image provides the strongest evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes and opens a new window onto the study of black holes, their event horizons, and gravity".

Katie Bouman, an MIT grad, helped develop a computer program while still in school. But I tagged along to this meeting [where Shep Doeleman, the Harvard University astronomer who directs the Event Horizon Telescope project, was discussing black holes].

"You're basically looking at a supermassive black hole that's nearly the size of our entire solar system", said Sera Markoff, professor at the University of Amsterdam, "and, in fact, that's part of the reason we can see it even though it's so far away".

"Why not name it the Bouman Black Hole, and get scifi writers slip a reference into their characters' lines?" one Twitter user suggested.

Katie Bouman reacts to the image of black hole.

'She lead the team, didn't she?

"How do we get more women involved?" she says. Bouman explains that her algorithm sorts an incredible number of images based on how likely those images are to contain black hole data.

Bouman was among a team of 200 researchers who contributed to the breakthrough, but on Wednesday, a picture of her triumphantly beaming as the image of the black hole materialised on her computer screen went viral, with many determined that Bouman's indispensable role was not written out of history - as so often has been the case for female scientists and researchers. "One key is showing that when you go into fields like computer science and engineering, it's not just sitting in a lab putting together a circuit or typing on your computer". "However, you might be surprised to know that that may soon change".

However, she is interested in "coming up with ways to see or measure things that are invisible".

"No one of us could've done it alone", Bouman said.

In context: Eight radio telescopes trained at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy each recorded 350TB of data per day for one week.

Her algorithm was used in the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, a joint global project which combines different telescopes around the globe into an Earth-sized telescope network allowing high-resolution imagery to be taken even in unexplored parts of the universe.

But Dr Bouman, now an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, insisted the team that helped her deserves equal credit.

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