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katie bouman the woman behind the first black hole image

Know the woman behind the first photo of black hole, 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.

Karatsuba during a lecture

Mathematicians find an amazing trick to multiply bigger numbers

The tables which were an amazing aid, pioneered first some 4000 years ago by the Babylonians is the most handy tool when it comes to multiplications. Well, its good for multiplication of small numbers but for bigger numbers , it becomes a bit tedious without the calculators and computers since we switch to the old school math of multiplying basically two numbers together. This method , though very accurate is slow since, for every single digit in a number , there needs to be a separate multiplication operation, before we add up the products. For every single digit in each number in the problem, you need to perform a separate multiplication operation, before adding all the products up.

Long multiplication is basically an algorithm, but not an efficient one, since the process is unavoidably pain-stricken. The problem is that as the numbers get bigger, the amount of work increases, represented by n raised to the power 2.

Well, the long multiplication algorithm was one of the most advanced multiplication algorithm we ever had until the 1960s, when a Russian mathematician, named Anatoly Karatsuba found that n raised to the power 1.58 was possible.

Soon after a decade, a pair of German mathematicians generated another shockwave with the most advanced breakthrough: the Schönhage–Strassen algorithm which in words of Harvey is- “They predicted that there should exist an algorithm that multiplies n-digit numbers using essentially n * log(n) basic operations,” as he posted his research paper which is yet to be peer- reviewed. However, It is in standard practice in mathematics to disseminate the results before undergoing any sort of peer review.

Using the Schönhage-Strassen algorithm and with new theoretical proof, it would take less than 30 minutes to solve the multiplication theoretically – and might be the fastest multiplication algorithm that is mathematically possible. Although the researchers have no idea about how big a number can they use to solve any multiplication problem using this method but the one they gave on the paper equates to 10214857091104455251940635045059417341952, which is really a very big number.

Fürer from Penn State University told the Science News that around a decade ago, he himself tried to make amendments the Schönhage-Strassen algorithm but eventually discontinued since it seemed quite hopeless to him. Now , that the mathematicians can verify it, his hopelessness has diminished.

In the meantime, Harvey and Joris van der Hoeven from École Polytechnique in France, say that their algorithm needs optimisation as they feel anxious if the results go wrong!