When the world thinks of black holes, it will think of Katie Bouman
Bouman said, “Taking a picture of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy is equivalent to taking an image of a grapefruit on the moon, but with a radio telescope.”
On 10 April, the world celebrated the release of the first image of a black hole. #EHTBlackHole was soon trending across Twitter. Later, Katie Bouman shared a photo on her Facebook profile of her reaction as the image was processing. This was just the beginning.
A screenshot of the image above was first tweeted:
Twitter did what it does best. A long line of retweets began but the biggest of them all was by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – a United States Congresswoman.
Who is Katie Bouman?
Katie is a postdoctoral fellow with Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) which is the most sensitive telescope built to capture black holes.
According to her website, she received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2017 and is now an assistant professor at Caltech's Computing and Mathematical Sciences department.
Katie developed and named the algorithm, CHIRP--Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors--that made it possible to create the first image of a black hole.
The development of CHIRP that involved a team of researchers was announced by MIT in June 2016. MIT described it by saying, “Researchers have developed a new algorithm that could help astronomers produce the first image of a black hole.”
What is the key feature of the algorithm?
Bouman said, “Taking a picture of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy is equivalent to taking an image of a grapefruit on the moon, but with a radio telescope. To image something this small means that we would need a telescope with a 10,000-kilometer diameter, which is not practical because the diameter of the Earth is not even 13,000 kilometers.”
The EHT is a computational telescope--a telescope array built using eight ground-based radio telescopes. It involved an extensive collaboration of several global observatories to form a virtual, Earth-sized telescope.
Now, Bouman played a crucial role in collecting and processing the “sparse and noisy” data from the eight radio telescopes working under Event Horizon Telescope. Her imaging algorithm combined the data and turned it into a cohesive image to capture the black hole image.
In November 2016, Bouman explained her role in a TEDxtalk--How to Take a Picture of a Black Hole. She directed the verification of images and selection of imaging parameters. This was done by ranking the infinite number of images in the order that most likely guided them to the best representation of the black hole.
According to UNESCO, just 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women. For her contribution, Bouman’s role is widely praised in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field.