The old cliche claims, “A picture says a thousand words.” This cliche may need to be revisited. When seeing the Facebook pic of Dr. ksteinke Bouman reacting to the first image of a black hole, I wondered what is more striking? A picture that will become one of history’s most iconic images of a black hole or a smile so full of pure, infectious joy that it has entranced the world. Congratulations Dr. Bouman, your smile is one of the few things powerful enough to rival a picture that carries the historic significance of the Apollo 11 landing! I also think it is noteworthy that this may become the first Facebook profile picture to end up in every science textbook on the planet!
Sadly, the vicious nature of social media is trying to damage this wonderful scientist’s achievement. Ignoring the fact that Dr. Bouman is downplaying her role in this image, giving equal if not more credit to the international team of scientists that turned the Earth into a telescope to take this image, the cyber trolls have shown no interest in learning the truth about this brilliant woman.
My first exposure to Dr. Bouman was about a year ago while watching a TEDx talk she gave on her contribution to this historic image. What struck me the first time I saw the talk was excitement, both at the possibility of imaging a black hole, but also feeding off Dr. Bouman’s visible passion explaining the science behind this imaging process. I invite you to watch this TEDx talk to hear Dr. Bouman explain the science in her own words.
As much as I would love to wax eloquently about her great analogies of counting oranges, turning the Earth into a disco ball, quoting Mick Jagger, and teaching computers to identify selfies, all analogies that will serve her well as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, I want to focus on her team’s goal: The imaging of a black hole.
What blew me away was when I re-watched her TEDx talk about what scientists thought they would see and then watched a video from last week of Dr. Bouman and other contributing scientists explaining what they did see. Watch this next video and I think you can get a clearer appreciation as to why Dr. Bouman is so happy!
I can’t imagine the joy a scientist must feel when something they have worked on is finally put to the test and is proven to be accurate. Yes, this image is only the first of many that will further our understanding of the wondrous creation we live in, but it is the first!
For me, it is easy to make a connection between Dr. Bouman’s facebook pic and the first fruit of the Holy Spirit we encounter in Scripture: Joy. The joy I see in Dr. Bouman is not only an iconic image that affirms her role in this historic image, but it should remind us of the joy we all desire and need. Dr. Bouman’s joy also affirms something I have shared with you in the past: One of the greatest lessons that science teaches me is that life is a journey of exploration and discovery of the world God made and the people God made us to be – and I must embrace my part of this exploration!
Spiritual Exercise: Do we find joy in our life? If we don’t, could it be that what is lacking is a meaningful journey, a pilgrimage to help us understand ourselves, the world we live in, the God we love, and the God who loves us? Could it be that science once again has taught us that the limits of the human person are only those we place upon ourselves, challenging us to explore new horizons to find deeper meaning and purpose?
Thank you Dr. Bouman, along with your team, for the historic work you have done. Thank you for inspiring many young women and men who will want to become scientists because of your work. And thank you for reminding this star gazing priest that at the heart of all of our lives is a longing for sincere joy that breathes life into the human person. Joy that you found in the first image of a black hole. Joy you have shared with the world through a smile.