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Who Is Katie Bouman And Why You Should Thank Her For The First-Ever Picture Of A Black Hole?

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A team of more than 200 researchers presented the first ever photo of a black hole on Wednesday, April 10.

The incredible feat was achieved through a global collaboration, which is made up of eight telescopes from all over the world, all of which observed the black hole at the middle of the galaxy Messier 87 for two years. Researchers have combined the data culled from all eight telescopes to create the invisible monster hiding 500 million trillion kilometers away from Earth.

The image, however, would not be possible if not for the work of Dr. Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist. She and her team created the algorithm that made the world's first-ever image of a black hole.

The Woman Behind The First Ever Image Of A Black Hole

Bouman started developing the algorithm three years ago as a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said that when she joined the global collaboration, she did not know the first thing about the black hole; her expertise is in computer science and electrical engineering.

However, she is interested in "coming up with ways to see or measure things that are invisible." Capturing a photo of a black hole was the perfect project for her.

Her algorithm sorted through two years worth of data which, they said, was enough to fill a half ton of hard drives.

"Traditionally the way you make images in radio astronomy is you actually have a human there who is kind of guiding the imaging methods in the direction they think they should go," she explained to Time. "And for data like this, that is so sparse, so noisy, where it's so hard to try to find an image, that was a dangerous game to play."

Bouman was assisted by a team of researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the MIT Haystack Laboratory, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

A Role Model For Girls Who Want To Venture Into STEM

As soon as the first-ever image of the black hole at the core of M87 went public, Bouman became a global sensation. Her name trended on Twitter and a photo she posted on Facebook, of herself watching the black hole reconstructed on her computer screen, went viral.

"Take your rightful seat in history, Dr. Bouman!" tweeted New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "Congratulations and thank you for your enormous contribution to the advancements of science and mankind. Here's to #WomenInStem!"

Bouman said that to encourage people especially little girls to enter fields known to be dominated by men like science and engineering, the key is to let them know that the work does not just involve sitting in a lab. She recounted that the research involved going to the sites where the telescopes were collecting data and collaborating with researchers from all over the world.

She said that she will continue working with the Event Horizon Telescope. The global collaboration is adding satellite dishes in space in addition to the network of telescopes on the ground. With the additional power, the team believes that they can capture moving images of black holes.

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