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Meet Katie Bouman, the MIT computer scientist who made the black hole image possible

Bouman has herself became an internet celebrity after yesterday’s picture.

Bouman's face as the black hole image came up on her screen.
Bouman's face as the black hole image came up on her screen.
Image: Facebook

WHEN THE WORLD was getting to see the first ever image of a black hole, Katie Bouman could hardly believe that her work had led to such an incomparable achievement.

What she perhaps found even more incredible was that her name trended across the United States in recognition of her efforts and those of whom she worked alongside.

Yesterday’s red-letter day for astronomy was built as part of a global collaborative effort and Bouman had led the team which developed an algorithm to bring all that collaborative work together.

Bouman is a former PhD student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her work involved helping computers see through images and video.

While at MIT she led a project to develop the algorithm, assisted by a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

No single telescope is powerful enough to capture a black hole so the image the world saw yesterday was assembled from data gathered by eight radio telescopes around the world.

The data was gathered two years ago, over four days when weather conditions in the eight worldwide locations were just right.

Completing the image was an enormous undertaking, involving an international team of scientists, supercomputers and hundreds of terabytes of data in hundreds of hard drives around the world.

The task of sorting through that data was enormous and the algorithm created by Bouman and her team at MIT was a crucial part of that effort.

Bouman details her work in a 2017 Ted Talk titled: How to take a picture of a black hole.

Source: TED/YouTube

Then yesterday, as that work was finally coming to fruition, Bouman posted to Facebook about how she felt.

“Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed,” she wrote alongside an image of her face as the image came up on the screen.

Tweet by @Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Source: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez/Twitter

Boumon’s image of herself has itself gone viral along with one taken 500 million trillion km away but speaking to CNN, the computer scientist said the credit was not all hers.

“No one of us could’ve done it alone,” she said. “It came together because of lots of different people from many different backgrounds.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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