Science

This female grad student made black hole image possible

This female grad student made black hole image possible”

For Dr Bouman, its creation was the realisation of an endeavour previously thought impossible. But, as news broke about the monumental discovery, Bouman's crucial contribution to the project appeared to go largely overlooked.

She captioned the Facebook post: "Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed".

Bouman was among a team of 200 researchers who contributed to the breakthrough, but on Wednesday, a picture of her triumphantly beaming as the image of the black hole materialised on her computer screen went viral, with many determined that Bouman's indispensable role was not written out of history - as so often has been the case for female scientists and researchers.

There, she led the project, assisted by a team from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the MIT Haystack Observatory.

Bouman helped develop the algorithms for what is formally called the Event Horizon Telescope project, denoting the point at which light, matter, and other energy fall into the incomprehensible density of a black hole, trapped there for eternity. These astronomical wonders have captivated our imagination ever since, and for the longest time, all we had to visualize them were artistic impressions. "It was quite spectacular", she told BBC Radio 5 live.

"I'm so excited that we finally get to share what we have been working on for the past year!" she wrote later.

We get this partial information.

Dr Bouman became an worldwide sensation with her name and image trending on Twitter in the hours after the revolutionary photo's release. In a post on social media, Bouman emphasised the collaborative efforts that had made the imaging of the black hole possible.

In the image released Wednesday, the black hole is outlined by an orange ring that is actually emission from hot gas swirling near its event horizon.

But Dr Bouman, now an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, insisted the team that helped her deserves equal credit. No one algorithm or person made this image, it required the wonderful talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work to develop the instrument, data processing, imaging methods, and analysis techniques that were necessary to pull off this seemingly impossible feat. In an interview with CNN, she said, "No one of us could've done it alone". Bouman worked with three other colleagues to developed the algorithm that made it possible for the image to come together.

Telescopes from researchers across the world had gathered data from the vicinity of the black hole, but a sophisticated algorithm was needed to create a single, accurate photo from the massive amount of data. Her background was in computer science and electrical engineering.

The data captured from each telescope was stored on hard drives and then flown to three central processing centres in Boston, US, and Bonn in Germany.

"However, you might be surprised to know that that may soon change", Bouman said. The internet's reaction to the image was also memed.



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