Wednesday, 19 June, 2019

Scientist superstar Katie Bouman designed algorithm for black hole image

Katie Bouman Katie Bouman
Elijah Vega | 12 April, 2019, 13:41

Bouman, who has a job lined up as assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, doesn't see her work as finished.

"(Bouman) was a major part of one of the imaging subteams", said Vincent Fish, a research scientist at MIT's Haystack Observatory. In a post on social media, Bouman emphasised the collaborative efforts that had made the imaging of the black hole possible.

MIT Haystack Observatory scientist Kazunori Akiyama, along with many others, doubted if they would be able to see the black hole's shadow.

"However, since we are only collecting light at a few telescope locations, we are still missing some information about the black hole's image", EHT said.

That historic first photo of a black hole was released to the public on Wednesday after years of work on an global project called Event Horizon Telescope.

Katie Bouman, an MIT grad, helped develop a computer program while still in school. Though Bouman was one of several women who worked on the Event Horizon Telescope team, the majority of her colleagues on the project were men.

So what should you know about this young scientist?

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Bouman's algorithm - CHIRP (or Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors) - uses the sparse data collected from telescopes to help choose and verify an image to help fill in the gaps.

The black hole image, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) - a network of eight linked telescopes - was rendered by Dr Bouman's algorithm. The project combined experts from all sorts of scientific backgrounds, ranging from physicists to mathematicians, and she saw the work through the lens of computer science, stressing the importance of running tests on synthetic data and making sure that the methods they used to make the image kept human bias out of the equation.

Bouman, a computer scientist, led the creation of a new algorithm to produce the first-ever image of a black hole.

This week, the world laid eyes on an image that previously it was thought was unseeable. A team of over 200 researchers, including Bouman, made it happen. "Her algorithm was frequently better than its predecessors at reconstructing the original image from the measurements and tended to handle noise better", according to a press release from 2016 from MIT, where she developed the algorithm.

"I'm so excited that we finally get to share what we have been working on for the past year", Bouman wrote in a post on Facebook. We could have gotten just a blob.

But Bouman acknowledged she'd be nowhere without her team.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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