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How a graduate student helped capture the first black hole image

12 April 2019

Three years ago, when she was a graduate student at MIT studying electrical engineering and computer science, Bouman led the creation of special algorithms that allowed the results from the telescopes to be merged into one image.

"We didn't want to accidentally see a ring just because we wanted to see a ring", she said.

Dr. Bouman was also hailed by MIT and the Smithsonian on social media. Black holes have extremely strong gravity, meaning anything that enters its event horizon, or point of no-return is swallowed up, according to NASA.

"This black hole is so far away from us, so from that this ring appears incredibly small, the same size to us as an orange on the surface of the moon", Bouman said in a 2016 TedTalk.

April 10, 2019 will go down in history as the day when the cumulative research of the astronomical and scientific worlds yielded the first actual image of a Supermassive Black Hole taken and released to the world by the Event Horizon Telescope.

Katie Bouman, an MIT grad, helped develop a computer program while still in school.

Bouman, who now an assistant professor at California Institute of Technology, deflected on her newfound fame, instead crediting everyone on her team in another Facebook post. She starts this fall as an assistant professor at California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Katherine Bouman, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, created an algorithm that assembled the one-of-a-kind picture.

Bouman didn't know the first thing about black holes when she joined the team six years ago.

Bouman's role in the project has been widely celebrated around the world following the presentation of the image.

Since the researchers had to deal with insufficient data from the supermassive black hole, Bouman developed an algorithm called CHIRP (Continuous High-resolution Reconstruction using Patch priors) which was able to put that sparse data to good use by filling in the gaps and producing the final image after extensive verification and tests.

The attention on Bouman may give a skewed impression of the number of women involved in the EHT project. "We just expected a blob". Her Facebook post Wednesday showing Bouman at her laptop captured her excitement at the moment. "Today, that image was released". She was then a graduate student in computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But last summer, when the teams gathered at the Black Hole Initiative to share their findings, the startling similarities prompted an outpouring of celebration and awe.

How a graduate student helped capture the first black hole image