Scientist makes history and diversifies field

A team of about 200 scientists, including Dr. Katherine (Katie) L. Bouman, released the first photograph of a black hole ever to be captured on April 10. The image confirmed the presence of black holes in our universe. Their existence was theorized by the famous physicist Albert Einstein.

The final image required data gathered from eight radio telescopes positioned around the world, collectively known as the Event Horizon Telescope. The picture showed “light and gas swirling around the lip of a supermassive black hole, a monster of the universe” located “in a galaxy 53 million light-years from Earth,” according to The Associated Press (AP).

Bouman, a researcher, received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). By the age of 29 she had developed a large part of the algorithm that made photographing such an elusive subject at first feasible, and then possible.

Dr. Katherine Bouman displays her hard drives.

Dr. Katherine Bouman displays her hard drives.

Her role was not one of singular effort, but rather of strong team leadership and vital contributions that, when combined with the work of the entire team, made history. according to Bouman and AP.

Scientific discovery “is cross-disciplinary, it is collaborative. It is not even a small group; it is a huge group of a bunch of people in a bunch of different fields who are coming together and working together towards a common goal. Everybody is doing just a little piece of work, but without each of them it wouldn’t happen,” Heather Appleby, a Richland professor of physics and astronomy said.

Appleby hopes “people maybe get to the point where they understand that that is how science works. And so it is not likely to be biased. It is not likely to be one-sided. It is a lot of people doing a lot of hard work and a lot of thinking. It is teamwork.”

Variety in backgrounds, genders and ethnicities participating in a scientific discovery is valuable, according to Appleby, because “The more diverse any field becomes, the stronger it becomes. Part of my evidence for that is our country [the United States]; we the most diverse country in the world. Why do you think we are so good at what we do? Because we do not look at problems from one point of view, we get it from a bunch of different points of view. Having different perspectives, which happens through diversity, leads to better research, better discoveries, better products.”

According to Appleby, women, however, have been historically discriminated against in the field of science. While progress has been made, a feeling of being unwelcome still prevails. Powerful women like Bouman help to overcome the barrier and strengthen the presence of women in science, serving as an inspiration to future generations and to people all over the world.

“If nothing else, it encourages girls and women to go into those STEM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, [because] those are fields that numerically do not have a lot of women, and so we really are a minority there,” Appleby said.

The picture of the black hole is revolutionary in the world of science, according to AP. The mysterious entity clouded by unproven theories for years has suddenly become real.

Bouman’s vital role in acquiring the image also signifies a triumph for women who devote their lives to science. The diversity of her entire team also marks great progress in the field of science.