History was made in April 2019 when scientists were able to capture the first-ever image of a black hole. The best part? It was made possible by a 29-year-old woman, computer scientist Dr. Katie Bouman.
Bouman’s algorithm was able to successfully photograph the halo of dust and gas 500 million trillion kilometers from Earth with the help of eight linked telescopes knows as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration.
Her work on this project actually began three years ago during her time as a computer science and artificial intelligence graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her responsibility was to lead the project along with help from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the MIT Haystack Observatory.
The project itself ended up involving a large team of over 200 scientists from all over the world. And while Bouman’s algorithm was one of several used, her method of processing the data was said to be pivotal for the success of the project. Bouman “was a major part of one of the imaging sub teams,” said Vincent Fish, a research scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory.
Her algorithm was used to render the millions of gigabytes of data the EHT captured in a decade to help identify a photograph of the black hole. “When we saw it for the first time, we were all in disbelief. It was quite spectacular,” Bouman said.
The release of the image received international praise along with accolades from President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Bouman quickly noted that the input of her colleagues was also key in helping make the project a success. “No one of us could do it alone,” she said.
While the photo of the black hole itself is an amazing feat, Bouman has made note that the project will be pivotal in providing further insight into other aspects of physics. “This is the beginning of being able to have another window into what black holes can tell us about our laws and physics,” she said.