The photo of 29-year-old computer scientist Dr. Katie Bouman is familiar to many by now: She's sitting at her computer with her hands over her mouth, having just created the first image of a black hole ever.
Dr. Bouman led the development of a computer algorithm that made this game-changing image possible. The photo shows a ring of dust and gas surrounding the shadow of a mass at the center of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy.
The picture and her name quickly went viral, and everyone from celebrities to politicians heaped much-deserved praise on the young woman's accomplishment.
Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took a few seconds off from serving up realness on the House floor and building her own Ikea furniture, and tweeted, "Take your rightful seat in history, Dr. Bouman! Congratulations and thank you for your enormous contribution to the advancements of science and mankind. Here's to #WomenInSTEM!"
Dr. Bouman started creating the algorithm three years ago while she was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She led the project with the help of a team of scientists from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the MIT Haystack Observatory.
The black hole image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of eight linked telescopes, and rendered by Dr. Bouman's algorithm. It was captured with the help of telescopes in locations around the world.
"This is...the beginning of being able to have another window into what black holes can tell us about our laws and physics," Dr. Bouman said on her Instagram. "Already, we've learned so much. We didn't know...we were going to get that ring of light. And that's what we were testing. We could have gotten just a blob. And so, seeing that ring, and seeing a ring that has a size that is consistent with other measurements that have been done completely differently, I think that in itself, just being able to see that that ring exists, is huge."
Dr. Bouman is currently a post-doctoral fellow at MIT, but will soon start as an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology. Her advice for the next generation of women in STEM? "As long as you're excited and you're motivated to work on it, then you should never feel like you can't do it," she told TIME.
Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman w/stacks of hard drives of black hole image data.— MIT CSAIL (@MIT_CSAIL) April 10, 2019
Right: MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton w/the code she wrote that helped put a man on the moon.
(image credit @floragraham)#EHTblackhole #BlackHoleDay #BlackHole pic.twitter.com/Iv5PIc8IYd