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Scientist superstar Katie Bouman designed algorithm for black hole image

12 April 2019

Katie Bouman led development of a computer program that made the breakthrough image possible.

Bouman also created a machine-learning algorithm to refine the black hole image and has made her algorithm data publicly available online for use.

It was at this processing center that Bauman and her team's work really came into action.

Bouman was a PhD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when she started working on the algorithm three years ago.

A photo of Bouman in disbelief, which was originally posted on her Facebook page, was shared on the MIT CSAIL Twitter account.

Bouman's CHIRP system also produced a more reliable image than traditional methods of astrophotography by creating a model that adjusts the information provided by the radio telescopes and using available data to meet expectations about what the black hole should look like.

"We have seen what we thought was unseeable. It was quite spectacular", she told BBC Radio 5 live.

"We could've just gotten a blob". We wanted to develop many different algorithms that all have different assumptions built into them.

In the hours after the photo's momentous release, Dr Bouman became an worldwide sensation, with her name trending on Twitter. "Congratulations Dr. Bouman!" the Royal Historical Society wrote on social media. Together, the team utilized enough image data to fill thousands of hard drives, seamlessly stitching together photos from eight telescopes - located in Hawaii, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Arizona, and the Antarctic - to create the image released today.

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. But it wasn't until June a year ago, when all the telescope data finally arrived, that Bouman and a small team of fellow researchers sat down in a small room at Harvard University and put their algorithm properly to the test.

"No one of us could've done it alone", she told CNN. "You're an inspiration to so many people".

"(Bouman) was a major part of one of the imaging subteams", said Vincent Fish, a research scientist at MIT's Haystack Observatory. "One key is showing that when you go into fields like computer science and engineering, it's not just sitting in a lab putting together a circuit or typing on your computer". "However, you might be surprised to know that that may soon change", Bouman said. Put another way, a series of algorithms converted telescopic data into the photo.

After a month of work, the four groups presented their results to the other teams.

Scientist superstar Katie Bouman designed algorithm for black hole image