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Katie Bouman (Twitter)

Star pupil

Meet the 29-year-old grad student who helped get the first-ever image of a black hole

By WITW Staff on April 12, 2019

On Tuesday, the world was treated to the first-ever image of a black hole, a feat made possible by the years-long efforts of more than 200 researchers. Among those who played a crucial role, according to CNN, was 29-year-old Katie Bouman, who “developed a crucial algorithm that helped devise imaging methods.”

As a graduate student in computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bouman worked on a project to develop imaging methods that would capture a black hole in a galaxy known as M87. Because the black hole was incredibly far away — more than 26,000 light years — it was also incredibly hard to take a picture of it. As Bouman explained in a 2016 Ted Talk, obtaining  the image with a single-dish telescope was impossible; the instrument would have to be the size of the Earth.

Instead, researchers relied on the Event Horizon Telescope initiative, a global network of telescopes that assembled mass quantities of data about M87.  “Each telescope in the worldwide network works together,” Bouman explained in 2016. “Linked through the precise timing of atomic clocks, teams of researchers at each of the sites freeze light by collecting thousands of terabytes of data.”

Bouman’s algorithm was among several that helped piece together an image from the data. “We developed ways to generate synthetic data and used different algorithms and tested blindly to see if we can recover an image,” she explains to CNN.

Due to begin a job as an assistant professor at California Institute of Technology in the fall, Bouman stressed that Tuesday’s groundbreaking image was the result of a collaborative effort. “No one of us could’ve done it alone,” she said. “It came together because of lots of different people from many backgrounds.”

Read the full story at CNN.

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