The black hole photo is a milestone for women in STEM

Katie Bouman captured the first image of a black hole, and we should all be proud of her.

COURTESY / EHT Collaboration

On Wednesday, Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, captured the first image of a supermassive black hole. 

Before this, scientists could only imagine what this phenomenon of space looked like. But as a result of this astrophysics breakthrough, we can finally see the image of an orange ring surrounding a black chasm.

It wasn’t as simple as aiming a camera at the sky and snapping a photo with perfect timing. Bouman was a member of a team of 200 researchers working on this groundbreaking discovery, but it was her algorithm that finally produced the image. 

Due to the extreme distance and compactness of black holes, we believed it was impossible to photograph one before Bouman proved us wrong.

This is a giant leap for science, but also for women in STEM careers. Bouman has overcome every obstacle and systematic barrier and challenged every preconceived notion that women don’t belong in the STEM field. Merely 50 years ago, it was unheard of for women to study or work in STEM.

Due to lack of encouragement and sometimes even teasing in school, young women often turn away from pursuing careers in science, Business Insider reported in 2013. I hope Bouman inspires some young girls out to believe they can study whatever they want to study.

The 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” follows some of the first Black female scientists to work for NASA during the 1960s. The women faced discrimination and prejudice from their white, male counterparts. 

The film concludes with Katherine Johnson, a mathematician, calculating the trajectory for Project Mercury, a difficult task no man on the team could accomplish. I can imagine Johnson, who is now 100 years old, smiling about Bouman’s scientific breakthrough.

Bouman’s image is now circulating all over the internet and media outlets. Everyone tweeting Bouman’s photo should give her credit, but I’m still not seeing her name posted often enough.

“Women do hold up half the sky, after all,” said Rebecca Michaels, a Temple University photography professor. “Movements such as the #MeToo movement are making women visible in a world where women have been unacknowledged, and women such as Bouman deserve to be seen and heard.”

Bouman’s work shattered the glass ceiling into a million pieces.

Bouman will become an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology in Fall 2019. 

In a country where only 11.1 percent of physicists and astronomers, 35.2 percent of chemists and 29 percent of the entire science and engineering workforce are women, according to the National Science Board, Bouman makes me proud to be a biology major and a woman in STEM.

Kripa Agarwal, a sophomore biology major on a premedical track, is impressed by Bouman’s achievement. 

“As a first generation immigrant and a woman pursuing dentistry, I know firsthand how we are sadly overlooked even though we are just as capable as men, if not even more capable,” Agarwal said. “This isn’t anything surprising that a woman did this…it’s only recently that the spotlight is being put on women.”

By allowing us to take a glimpse of this paradox for the first time, Bouman has made history; she revealed the truth of the universe, which sometimes we must see to believe. 

“Human nature wants the truth, and photography changed the worldview of how we think of images,” said Martha Madigan, a photography professor and experienced sunprinter, an artist who creates a photo with sunlight instead of a camera. “Once you had the photo you had the truth. This photo is an inventive concept of a black hole, but in minds of human beings it proves something.”

To Bouman, thank you for providing this “proof.” As more and more women pursue STEM careers, I can’t wait to hear about the next “impossible” breakthrough made by a woman.

So let’s keep sharing Bouman’s photo, but let’s not leave her name out of it. Draw attention to this pioneer.

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