Most Influential People2019

Shep Doeleman

By Lisa Randall
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Astronomer and Harvard Senior Research Fellow Shep Doeleman
Stephanie Mitchell—Harvard University

When scientists can galvanize the public with the amazing phenomena of the universe and the technology that makes it visible, the work merits recognition. Harvard astronomer Sheperd Doeleman and his team of 200 researchers working on the Event Horizon Telescope did even better. They linked radio telescopes around the world to make a single “telescope” that spanned the Earth, allowing them (and us) to see, for the first time, a lensed ring of light surrounding a black hole 55 million light-years away.

We’ve seen evidence of black holes before: stars rotating in the center of the galaxy at speeds too fast to be explained by ordinary distributions of matter; X-rays emitted by matter accreting onto the black holes; as well as gravitational waves. But more direct evidence resonates differently—and people like pictures. In a triumph of technology, ingenuity and perseverance, we can at last see a black hole, with the promise of further insights in the future.

Randall is a professor of physics at Harvard University and author, most recently, of Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs