Katherine Bouman, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, created an algorithm that assembled the one-of-a-kind picture. And after the image was unveiled to the world on Wednesday, Bouman began earning accolades from fellow scientists, historians and politicians for her significant achievement.
“Given the extent of the use of ‘historic’ today, we are unashamedly and legitimately jumping on the #BlackHolePicture bandwagon. Congratulations Dr. Bouman!” the Royal Historical Society wrote on social media.
Bouman started working on an algorithm as a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying electrical engineering and computer science.
She was one of about three dozen computer scientists who used algorithms to process data gathered by the Event Horizon Telescope project, a worldwide collaboration of astronomers, engineers and mathematicians.Telescopes around the world collected high-frequency radio waves from the vicinity of Messier 87, a supermassive black hole 54 million light-years away. But atmospheric disturbance and the spareness of the measurements meant “an infinite number of possible images” could explain the data, Bouman said. Well-designed algorithms had to crunch through the chaos.
When the first-ever image was unveiled Wednesday, it prompted overwhelming excitement online, not only for science but also for the scientist behind it.
“I am inspired by Katie Bouman,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of U.N. Women, wrote on Twitter.
And Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, “add me to the #KatieBouman fan club.”
Such sentiment was shared across social media.