Valerie Thomas was interested in science as a child, after observing her father tinkering with the television and seeing the mechanical parts inside the TV. At the age of eight, she read The Boys First Book on Electronics, which sparked her interest in a career in science.
Her father would not help her with the projects in the book, despite his own interest in electronics. At the all-girls school she attended, she was not encouraged to pursue science and math courses, though she did manage to take a physics course.Thomas would go on to attend Morgan State University, where she was one of two women majoring in physics. Thomas excelled in her math and science courses at Morgan State University.
In 1980, Thomas received a patent for an illusion transmitter. The device produces optical illusion images via two concave mirrors. Unlike flat mirrors, which produce images that appear to be inside, or behind the mirror, concave mirrors create images that appear to be real, or in front of the mirror itself. This technology was subsequently adopted by NASA and has since been adapted for use in surgery as well as the production of television and video screens.
Thomas worked for NASA until her retirement in 1995. During that time, she held a number of positions, including Project Manager of the Space Physics Analysis Network and Associate Chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office.
Over the course of her career, Thomas contributed widely to the study of space. She helped to develop computer program designs that supported research on Halley’s Comet, the ozone layer, and satellite technology.
For her achievements, Thomas received a number of NASA awards including the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit and the NASA Equal Opportunity Medal. Her success as a scientist, despite the lack of early support for her interests, inspired Thomas to reach out to students. In addition to her work at NASA, she mentored youths through the National Technical Association and Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology, Inc.
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