29-Year-Old Becomes An Icon For Women In STEM After Black Hole Photograph

Bouman and her team accomplished a historic scientific breakthrough.

Humans laid eyes on a black hole for the first time ever this week and one woman who helped capture the image is now being heralded as a women's idol in science.


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Scientist Katie Bouman, then a Ph.D. student studying computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was photographed as the first image of the black hole came into focus. Her excitement, a chalkboard in the background covered in equations and a room full of computers and teammates helped the photograph go viral.

Around 200 researchers participated in capturing the image of the supermassive black hole in the Messier 87 galaxy, which is about 55 million light years away. But the photo of Bouman quickly catapulted her to internet fame and made her the face of the discovery. The scientific community has a well-documented history of downplaying the role women have played in major achievements, people across the internet were determined to keep Bouman's story at the top of everyone's mind.

"Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed," Bouman posted on Facebook.

Bouman immediately noted in a follow-up post that the image of the black hole was a team effort. 

"No one algorithm or person made this image," she wrote. "It required the amazing talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work to develop the instrument, data processing, imaging methods and analysis techniques that were necessary to pull off this seemingly impossible feat."

Naturally, there was some backlash to Bouman's elevated profile around the discovery. One Reddit post, noting that she wrote fewer lines of code than some of her male teammates, declared that she "should not be getting credit for the picture" of the black hole. Quickly, in corners of the internet, online trolls began claiming that Bouman's teammate Andrew Cheal, who was also on the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team that captured that image, did more work than her.

On Thursday, Chael responded on Twitter.

"So apparently some (I hope very few) people online are using the fact that I am the primary developer of the eht-imaging software library to launch awful and sexist attacks on my colleague and friend Katie Bouman," he tweeted. "Stop. While I wrote much of the code for one of these pipelines, Katie was a huge contributor to the software; it would have never worked without her contributions and the work of many  others who wrote code, debugged, and figured out how to use the code on challenging EHT data"

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