First came the breathtaking image, the first one to ever show a black hole, in a galaxy about 55 million light-years from Earth.
Then came the giddy realization that the remarkable, years-in-the-making moment would not have been possible without the work of a 29-year-old female scientist, who has now claimed a special spot in history.
Katherine Bouman, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, created an algorithm that assembled the one-of-a-kind picture. And after the image was unveiled to the world on Wednesday, Bouman began earning accolades from fellow scientists, historians and politicians for her significant achievement.
“Given the extent of the use of ‘historic’ today, we are unashamedly and legitimately jumping on the #BlackHolePicture bandwagon. Congratulations Dr. Bouman!” the Royal Historical Society wrote on social media.
Bouman started working on an algorithm as a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying electrical engineering and computer science.
According to The Washington Post’s Ben Guarino:
“She was one of about three dozen computer scientists who used algorithms to process data gathered by the Event Horizon Telescope project, a worldwide collaboration of astronomers, engineers and mathematicians.
“Telescopes around the world collected high-frequency radio waves from the vicinity of Messier 87, a supermassive black hole 54 million light-years away. But atmospheric disturbance and the spareness of the measurements meant ‘an infinite number of possible images’ could explain the data, Bouman said. Well-designed algorithms had to crunch through the chaos.”
When the first-ever image was unveiled Wednesday, it prompted overwhelming excitement online, not only for science but also for the scientist behind it.
“I am inspired by Katie Bouman,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of U.N. Women, wrote on Twitter.
The sentiment was shared across social media.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Take your rightful seat in history, Dr. Bouman! Congratulations and thank you for your enormous contribution to the advancements of science and mankind.”
The Barbie account on Twitter wrote, “Congratulations Katie Bouman on this remarkable accomplishment! Thank you for leading by example and encouraging girls to push the boundaries of science.”
“Tip of the hat to MIT’s Katie Bouman for her contribution to today’s big announcement!” wrote Planetary Society, which is led by Bill Nye.