The Woman Behind the Image of the Black Hole

Katie Bouman  Facebook

Katie Bouman Facebook

In response to the scientific community's celebration of the publication on Wednesday of the first picture of a black hole, internet trolls painted an even darker portrait of misogyny through an effort to discredit the female postdoctoral researcher, Katie Bouman, who led the development of the imaging algorithm.

Bouman is 29 years old.

Bouman's contribution eventually got the attention of freshman Congressman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who tweeted, "Take your rightful seat in history, Dr. Bouman!" It's an image years in the making - one that required a global network of eight telescopes and an worldwide team of over 200 astronomers, physicists, mathematicians, and engineers.

Put simply, Dr Bouman and others developed a series of algorithms that converted telescopic data into the historic photo shared by the world's media.

In a series of Twitter posts, he said three separate software libraries were involved in the creation of the black hole image and that while he wrote much of the code for one of those image pipelines, it would not have worked without Katie's contributions and input from others.

Soon after, another image was spreading over social media and the news.

"Once I realized that many online commentators were using my name and image to advance a sexist agenda to claim that Katie's leading role in our global team was invented, I felt I should say something to make it clear I rejected that view", Chael told CNN.

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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.

Science runs in Bouman's family. She directed the verification and selection of the parameters for the data from the telescopes. In 1969, Hamilton helped write on-board computer code for NASA's Apollo space program.

Identical memes quickly spread across Twitter, where one typical response was: "Andrew Chael did 90% of the work".

"Congrats to Katie! What an incredible day, thanks to her brilliant work", the Smithsonian added. She posted on Facebook, "No one algorithm or person made this image, it required the fantastic talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work..."

"We've taken a number of steps to address this including surfacing more authoritative content across our site for people searching for news-related topics, beginning to reduce recommendations of borderline content and showing information panels with more sources where they can fact check information for themselves", a YouTube spokesperson told Business Insider. She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of MI and went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for her master's and doctorate.

Ashley Thompson wrote this article for VOA Learning English.

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