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Katie Bouman: The Woman Who Developed The Black Hole Algorithm

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The National Science Foundation and the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released the first-ever image of a black hole. The photo soon after went viral and is currently one of the most talked about topics in the world.


This feat would have not been achieved without the crucial input of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate, Katie Bouman. She came up with the key algorithm that allowed the discovery of the Black Hole.


The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) uses a technique called interferometry. They use signals from eight telescopes all combined and sent to a computer to turn an almost invisible image into a visual picture.


Katie Bouman black holee
The moment Katie Bouman found out the algorithm worked


The process

This means that a huge amount of data is collected and sent with lots of hard drives to MIT’s storage room. This is where they keep very important data. But they needed a new algorithm to turn all the data collected by EHT into an image. The algorithm would have to also filter out the noise and synchronise signals captured by far-reaching telescopes.


Bouman, while still a computer science student at MIT, came up with the algorithm to string together data collected across the EHT network. She also led a series of tests that ensured that their images were free from technical glitches.


She collaborated with four separate teams to analyse the data independently until the findings were solid. They algorithm pretty much converted telescopic data into the viral photo that it is today.


Bouman regarded her team as a “melting pot of astronomers, physicist, mathematicians and engineers.” They all came together to “achieve something once thought impossible.”


Dr Bouman, who currently works as a computer scientist at Caltech, is only 29-years-old. She is an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology.

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