Someone You Should Know: Local Professor Has Ties To Black Hole Breakthrough

Someone You Should Know

Like the first x-ray image, or a man walking untethered in space — once in a while, an image comes along that takes the entire world’s breath away.

“That’s the reason why people become scientists and engineers,” says Dr. Terry Pilling, the Director of Engineering at the University of Mary. “To work on something and then see your work come to fruition in a discovery like this is a gratifying thing.”

Gratifying for Dr. Terry Pilling, because he helped make possible the first-ever picture of a black hole.

His side of the story begins in 2006. “I flew out to Hawaii to work for several months on the control systems for this telescope.”

That’s the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, about the size of a building, and positioned on top of a dormant volcano in Maunakea, Hawaii.

“My job was, as part of a team, to write software which allows astronomers to zoom in on various objects of the universe and photograph them and observe them,” Dr. Pilling says.

Four months later, his work was complete — little did he realize that telescope would become a piece of a much, much larger project.

“The idea was to spread out eight telescopes that covered half of the globe, and then the entire face of the planet becomes a giant telescope,” he explains.

That allowed scientists to gaze deep into the universe — and capture the image that our grandchildren will see in their science textbooks.

Dr. Pilling says that even having a small part to play in that feels a bit like winning the Super Bowl. “It’s not just the quarterback or the wide receiver that makes the winning touchdown,” he says. “Everybody in the group feels elated by a discovery like this.”

And he says he hopes this moment, where science fiction suddenly becomes reality, will inspire the next generation of great minds. “I’m hoping discoveries like this will cause younger kids to get interested in science, and then become engineers and scientists in the future.”

Dr. Terry Pilling — an engineer with a cosmic connection — is Someone You Should Know.

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