Meet Katie Bouman, the woman behind first black hole photo

Pablo Tucker
September 2, 2019

- Women Igniting Change® (@womenigniting) April 11, 2019I called my daughters, 9 and 13, into my office this morning to show them what Katie Bouman had done with getting the first image of a black hole.

However, some online are arguing that Bouman got credit that she didn't deserve, claiming on Reddit that a white male Harvard graduate student named Andrew Chael "wrote 850,000 out of the 900,000 lines of code in the historic black-hole algorithm". Katie Bouman is an MIT graduate and she has been working on this project for a few years.

"Three years ago MIT grad student Katie Bouman led the creation of a new algorithm to produce the first-ever image of a black hole", MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab wrote on Twitter.

This past week, people worldwide were awed with the very first image ever taken of a black hole.

Black holes are extremely far away and compact, so taking a photo of one is no easy task.

What's actually going on in that cryptic black hole photo?

In truth, singling out any one scientist in a massive, cross-disciplinary group effort like the Event Horizon Telescope's project is bound to create misapprehensions. There, she and her team "developed ways to generate synthetic data and used different algorithms" in an attempt to recover an image from the four petabytes of data captured by the aforementioned telescopes, Bouman told CNN.

They took the "sparse and noisy data" that the telescopes spit out and tried to make an image.

"It required the unbelievable 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". One difficulty here is the fact that we've never seen a black hole, so it's hard to tell the program what to look for.

Scientists say the picture Bouman helped capture proves Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.

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".

"No matter what we did, you would have to bend over backwards insane to get something that wasn't this ring", Bouman said.

Several of the scientists involved were from the MIT Haystack Observatory, including Vincent Fish.

So what should you know about this young scientist? "It required the fantastic talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard pull off this seemingly impossible feat".

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

"Radio wavelengths come with a lot of advantages", Bouman said in the press release.

But Dr. Bouman, now an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, was keen to share the credit with colleagues there.

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