As the first-ever picture of a black hole was unveiled this week, another image began making its way around the internet: a photo of a young scientist, clasping her hands over her face and reacting with glee to an image of an orange ring of light, circling a deep, dark abyss.
It was a photo too good not to share. The scientist, Katie Bouman, a postdoctoral fellow who contributed to the project, became an instant hero for women and girls in STEM, a welcome symbol in a world hungry for representation.
You’ve probably also seen this picture making the rounds. This is Katie Bouman. She's a 29-year-old post-doctoral fellow at MIT, and she’s getting credit for making that black hole image possible.
Congratulations to Katie Bouman to whom we owe the first photograph of a black hole ever. Not seeing her name circulate nearly enough in the press.— Tamy Emma Pepin (@TamyEmmaPepin) April 10, 2019
Amazing work. And here’s to more women in science (getting their credit and being remembered in history) 💥🔥☄️ pic.twitter.com/wcPhB6E5qK
Bouman is making headlines because she developed a crucial algorithm that helped scientists capture that photo of a black hole in space, which was virtually impossible.
Three years ago, when she was a computer science and artificial intelligence graduate student at MIT, she was part of a team of 200 researchers that worked on the creation of an algorithm that provided the imaging code to capture the black hole.
Katie’s algorithm helped fill in gaps that needed to be filled after a global network of telescopes collected tons of data. Her algorithm helped “piece together the picture.”
Vincent Fish, a research scientist at MIT's Haystack Observatory, said senior scientists worked on the project, but the imaging portion was mostly led by junior researchers, like Katie. Here she is with stacks of hard drives containing the imaging data.
While she's already accomplished so much, she's nowhere near done. She starts teaching as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology in the fall.
Katie Bouman led the creation of an algorithm that helped capture the first ever image of a black hole. We asked her what this breakthrough means for science. For more reaction from other scientists, visit our YouTube channel: https://t.co/H1UfPI6Y8V pic.twitter.com/mrz65x3nzA— nature (@nature) April 11, 2019
In a text message late Thursday night, Dr. Bouman said that she had to turn her phone off because she was getting so many messages. “I’m so glad that everyone is as excited as we are and people are finding our story inspirational,’’ she wrote. “However, the spotlight should be on the team and no individual person. Focusing on one person like this helps no one, including me.”