Valerie L. Thomas (born February 8, 1943) is an African-American scientist and inventor. She invented the Illusion Transmitter, for which she received a patent in 1980.
Early life and education
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 mathematics 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 mathematics and science courses at Morgan State University and went on to work for NASA after graduation.
In 1964, Thomas began working for NASA as a data analyst. She developed real-time computer data systems to support satellite operations control centers (1964–1970) and oversaw the creation of the Landsat program (1970–1981), becoming an international expert in Landsat data products. In 1974 Thomas headed a team of approximately 50 people for the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment (LACIE), a joint effort with NASA's Johnson Space Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. LACIE demonstrated the feasibility of using space technology to automate the process of predicting wheat yield on a worldwide basis. In 1976, she attended an exhibition that included an illusion of a light bulb that was lit, even though it had been removed from its socket. The illusion, which involved another light bulb and concave mirrors, inspired Thomas. Curious about how light and concave mirrors could be used in her work at NASA, she began her research in 1977. This involved creating an experiment in which she observed how the position of a concave mirror would affect the real object that it reflected. Using this technology, she would invent the illusion transmitter. On October 21, 1980, she obtained the patent for the illusion transmitter, a device that NASA continues to use today.
In 1985, she was the NSSDC Computer Facility manager responsible for a major consolidation and reconfiguration of two previously independent computer facilities and infused it with new technology. She then served as the Space Physics Analysis Network (SPAN) project manager from 1986–1990 during a period when SPAN underwent a major reconfiguration and grew from a scientific network with about 100 computer nodes to one directly connecting about 2,700 computer nodes worldwide. In 1990, SPAN became a major part of NASA's science networking and today's Internet. She also participated in projects related to Halley's Comet, ozone research, satellite technology and the Voyager spacecraft.
She retired from NASA and her positions of associate chief of NASA's Space Science Data Operations Office, manager of the NASA Automated Systems Incident Response Capability and as chair of the Space Science Data Operations Office Education Committee. at the end of August 1995.
Post-retirement, Valerie Thomas serves as an associate at the UMBC Center for Multicore Hybrid Productivity Research. She continued to serve as a mentor for youth through the Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology and National Technical Association.