How Katie Bouman accidentally became the face of the Black Hole project



When the first image of a black hole was released this week, another image began to make its way onto the Internet: a photo of a young scientist, holding his hands over his face and reacting with joy to an image of an orange ring of Light , surrounding a deep and dark abyss.

It was too good a picture not to share. The scientist, Katie Bouman, a postdoctoral fellow who contributed to the project, became an instant heroine for women and girls in STEM, a welcome symbol in a hungry world of representation.

Public figures from Washington to Hollywood learned his name. Y some defendersFamiliar with how history can write about women's contributions, she moved quickly to make sure she received the recognition she deserved. However, in their enthusiasm to celebrate, many non-scientists in social networks exaggerated their role in what was a group effort of hundreds of people, creating an exaggerated impression as the photo was shared and shared again.

The project, led by Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, was the work of more than 200 researchers. About 40 of them were women, according to the Harvard Black Hole Initiative.

"There are women involved in every step of this incredible project," said Sara Issaoun, 24, a graduate student at Radboud University in the Netherlands who worked on the research. "As a woman in STEM, it's good to have models that girls and boys can admire."

But Ms. Issaoun warned against a "lone wolf success" narrative. "I think it's worth celebrating the diversity and the group effort and the breadth of our collaboration," he said.

To capture the image of a black hole, a mysterious phenomenon that was long thought unlikely to be seen, scientists used eight radio observatories around the world to observe the galaxy for 10 days in April 2017. They then embarked in the effort to process large amounts of data and map them into an image.

Dr. Bouman, who will soon become an badistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, played an important role in the imaging process, which involved researchers who split up into teams to map the data and compare and test the images that they created.

While she He led the development of an algorithm to take a photograph of a black hole, an effort that was the subject of a TED talk he gave in 2016, his colleagues said that the technique was not ultimately used to create this particular image.

Feryal Ozel, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Arizona who was in scientific council for the project, published for the first time a document about images of black holes in 2000. She called the unveil "A sweet moment that takes a long time in manufacturing".

In an interview on Thursday, Dr. Ozel said it was exciting to see people interested in the role of women in science, but she highlighted the contributions of other women and men. That included one of his male graduate students, who made several trips to the South Pole, where one of the telescopes was located.

"I think that giving credit to just one person, whether a woman or a man, young or old, hurts collaboration," he said.

Penn Sheppard, who works with Girls Inc., an organization that empowers young women and offers after-school programs to help girls learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said that the story of Dr. Bouman It resonates in an industry in which women are underrepresented – and in a world in which historically their scientific contributions have not been recognized.

"It was an opportunity to see a woman fulfilled play an important role and be recognized in that role," he said. "That is significant because girls and young children are beginning to see that women are scientific, not only can you be, but it is."

Ms. Issaoun said she also wanted to celebrate the success of a diverse collaboration of scientists, but said she understood why Dr. Bouman's photo went viral.

"We also love this picture, because he looks very happy," said Issaoun, who said he felt chills when he saw the image of a black hole. "I think his expression really captures how we all feel when we first saw it."


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