You Can Thank This Scientist for the First-Ever Image of a Black Hole
Katie Bouman helped develop a crucial algorithm as a graduate student at MIT.
In movies, black holes are often seen as swirling blue and purple portals that seem to lead to “another dimension,” where the world as we know it has been turned on its head. But we no longer have to rely on Hollywood’s best guess of what the scientific phenomenon looks like.
Scientists shared the first image of a black hole ever captured on Wednesday.
"This is a huge day in astrophysics," France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, said at a press conference. "We're seeing the unseeable.”
The image was captured by eight telescopes that recorded dozens of hard drives worth of data, but the photo being widely share across media outlets and online wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of one woman: computer scientist Katie Bouman.
As a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology three years ago, Bouman led the development of an algorithm that proved crucial to creating the image, CNN reported.
"[Bouman] was a major part of one of the imaging subteams," Vincent Fish, a research scientist at MIT's Haystack Observatory, told CNN.
"One of the insights Katie brought to our imaging group is that there are natural images," Fish said. "Just think about the photos you take with your camera phone — they have certain properties ... If you know what one pixel is, you have a good guess as to what the pixel is next to it."
The foggy image of the black hole isn’t just one photo. It’s actually a composite image of many photos created using Bouman’s algorithm, according to the BBC.
"Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed," the 29-year-old wrote on Facebook.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are still male-dominated fields. Despite the fact that women make up 47% of the American workforce, they account for less than one-quarter of people in STEM jobs, according to the Department of Commerce. Persistent gender stereotypes surrounding STEM studies and careers often discourage girls and women from these fields, the National Bureau of Economic Research found.
But women like Bouman, who will begin teaching at the California Institute of Technology in the fall, are showing the next generation of aspiring female scientists that anything is possible. Her achievement already has people calling for more girls and women to follow suit.
We got the very first photo of a black hole because of an amazing team led by MIT grad student Katie Bouman, who helped create the algorithm that made the image possible. ⚫️ Congratulations and THANK YOU, Katie! 💥 You’re an inspiration to so many people 💫 pic.twitter.com/F6WqguYhJt— Olivia Munn (@oliviamunn) April 11, 2019
😮Today, the 1st-ever image of a #BlackHole has been revealed to the world. 🔭— UN Women (@UN_Women) April 10, 2019
🎉Huge congrats to Katie Bouman, who made it possible! 👏
👩🔬We need more #WomenInScience like Bouman, and increase their visibility.💫 https://t.co/lf9mpQMawT
Take your rightful seat in history, Dr. Bouman! 🔭— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 10, 2019
Congratulations and thank you for your enormous contribution to the advancements of science and mankind.
Here’s to #WomenInSTEM!
Congratulations to Dr. Katie Bouman, to whom we owe the first photo of a black hole ever. Here’s to more badass women in science and to them being openly recognized in history for their achievements ✌️ pic.twitter.com/7KsHEU1deS— Molly Elizabeth (@HeyDarlingRage) April 11, 2019
This is so fantastic. This is Dr. Katie Bouman, the computer scientist responsible for the first-ever real image of a black hole. She's only 29! Here's to a new generation of brilliant women scientists. You make us proud! pic.twitter.com/A1AJfHYGT3— Darren Kramer (@DarrenKramer8) April 11, 2019