Valerie Thomas is a scientist and inventor. She invented the illusion transmitter, for which she received a patent in 1980.
Thomas has been awarded the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit and the NASA Equal Opportunity Medal.
Thomas was interested in science as a child, learning at the age of 8 about electronics after reading The Boys First Book on Electronics. She wanted her father to help her work on projects involving electronics, but he failed to do so.
She went to an all-girls school where she did not receive any training in the sciences. Implicit stereotypes contributed to this, as the girls school did not teach the students about math or science, so she had to educate herself about those subjects.
Thomas would go on to attend Morgan State University, and was 1 of 2 women majoring in physics.
In 1964, Thomas was hired at NASA, first as a data analyst and then moving on to oversee the creation of the Landsat program. In 1976 she attended an exhibition that displayed an illusion of a light bulb which was lit, even though it had been removed from its socket. The illusion, which involved another light bulb and concave mirrors, inspired Thomas. She was curious as how she could use light and concave mirrors in her work at NASA and in 1977 she started work. This involved creating a set up which 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 product that NASA continues to use today. During her time at NASA she worked as project manager for the Space Physics Analysis Network and was associate chief for NASA’s Space Science Data Operations Office. During her career, she also participated in projects related to Halley’s Comet, ozone research, the Voyager spacecraft.
She retired in August 1995 as Space Science Data Operations Officer, serving as manager of the NASA Automated Systems Incident Response Capability and serving as chair of the SSDOO Education Committee.
She is currently an associate at the UMBC Center for Multicore Hybrid Productivity Research. She also serves as a mentor for youth through the Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology and National Technical Association.