This female grad student made black hole image possible

Pablo Tucker
April 12, 2019

Bouman, 29, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had been working on such an algorithm for nearly six years, since she was a graduate student at MIT.

Feryal Ozel, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona who was the modeling and analysis lead on the project, told ABC News the gender breakdown was "pretty dismal", noting that there were about three senior women, including herself, out of about 200 total scientists on the project.

For Katie Bouman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology post-doctoral student, her years of work helped scientists stitch together the snap.

"A black hole is very, very far away and very compact", Bouman told MIT News in 2016. "The imaging algorithms we develop fill in the gaps of data we are missing in order to reconstruct a picture of the black hole".

The data they captured was stored on hundreds of hard drives that were flown to central processing centres in Boston, US, and Bonn, Germany.

The project also plumbed the expertise of scientists at MIT's Haystack Observatory in Westford, Boston University, Brandeis University, and the University of MA, among others.

"It required the awesome 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", she said.

Scientists on Wednesday revealed the first-ever photo taken of a black hole - but one woman played an essential role in capturing the image.

"To have to wait this long, it's been frustrating in one sense but now so fantastic that we have the results", he told 7News.

She led the development of the black hole telescope algorithm under the Event Horizon Telescope project. It was probably the most exciting moment I've ever had with the project. And how can we come up with unique ways to merge the instrumentation and algorithms to get at measuring things that you can't measure with standard instruments.

This is the MIT computer scientist whose algorithm led to the first real image of a black hole. Light gets bent and twisted around by gravity in a freakish funhouse effect as it gets sucked into the abyss along with superheated gas and dust.

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

The first visualisation of a black hole looks set to revolutionise our understanding of one of the great mysteries of the universe. "It has been truly an honor, and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with you all".

But atmospheric disturbance and the spareness of the measurements meant "an infinite number of possible images" could explain the data, Bouman said.

Beyond the hole exists a gravity so powerful, not even light can escape, and all known physical laws break down. "So that's what we were kind of testing".

Bouman did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for an interview.

Bouman continued to work on the project with the assistance of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and MIT Haystack Observatory - the last two being part of the 13 institutes involved in the EHT collaboration.

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