Know the woman behind the first photo of black hole, Katie Bouman

katie bouman the woman behind the first black hole image
Left: Image from Event Horizon Telescope revealing the gargantuan black hole at the heart of galaxy Messier 87. Right: Katie Bouman

On Wednesday, scientists released the first ever images of a black hole, about which we have known for a very long period of time, but could not capture a single image of it. This remarkable achievement has been made possible largely due to the algorithms created by a 29 year old computer scientist, Katie Bouman.

Katie Bouman, a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Electronic Engineering and Computer Science developed an algorithm named as Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors or CHIRP. This algorithm along with CLEAN helped in obtaining the image of the black hole inside the galaxy Messier 87.

She grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana and she had learned about the Event Horizon Telescope back in 2007 while she was in school. After that, she studied Electrical Engineering from University of Michigan and went on to earn a Master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she eventually earned her doctorate. At MIT, her master’s thesis was awarded the Ernst Guillemin award for the best thesis. It was after this that she joined Harvard University as a fellow on the imaging team of Event Horizon Telescope.

The Event Horizon Telescope, a collection of eight interlinked telescopes located in various parts of the world ranging from Hawaii to Antarctic captured the black hole using a technique called interferometry. The data obtained from these telescopes were collected in hard drives and then sent to a central processing centre. Dr. Bouman led the efforts in the testing process where the algorithms were used with various assumptions fed into them for extracting the image from the data. This did not mark the end of the process as the results produced by the algorithms were separated checked by several teams for the final verification. The size of the black hole is larger than that of our entire solar system and it measures 40 billion kilometres across which is three million times the size of our planet.

Dr. Katie Bouman acknowledged the efforts of all the researchers, mathematicians and engineers in this project as she said that it was because of this collaboration that this once thought impossible task was finally achieved.

Bouman now will start her new job as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology. But that does not end her journey with the black holes. She plans on working with the Event Horizon team to be able to produce a video on the black holes in addition to the existing images.


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