Valerie Thomas is possibly responsible for your enjoyment of Avatar in 2009 or Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over as a child. She was the NASA scientist that made 3D movies possible, and she was a Black woman. She worked on several innovative projects while at the aeronautics institute and received multiple accolades, including the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit and NASA’s Equal Opportunity Medal. She also volunteered in her neighborhood, mentoring young people through NASA’s many initiatives. It all started when she was a young kid and had an interest in science.
Thomas noticed her father watching television. When she observed the mechanical pieces within the television, she became interested in STEM.
She then read The Boy’s First Book on Electronics when she was eight years old. Despite his own interest in electronics, her father declined to assist his daughter with the book’s tasks. Furthermore, she was not encouraged to study science at the all-girls school where she was a student. Despite this, she was able to complete one physics course. Thomas moved on to Morgan State University, where she was one of only two women studying in physics, despite having little support at home or at school. She graduated and went on to work for NASA after excelling in her mathematics and science studies.
Thomas started her career at NASA in 1964 as a data analyst. She worked on real-time computer data systems for satellite operations control centers until 1970. She directed the development of the Landsat program from then until 1981, and went on to become an international specialist in Landsat data products. The Landsat program is the world’s longest-running satellite images acquisition project. In addition, the scientist oversaw a team of roughly 50 persons for the LACIE project (Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment). LACIE shown that employing space technology to automate the process of estimating wheat yield on a global scale is possible.
In 1976, Thomas attended a lecture where she came across an exhibit demonstrating a light bulb illusion. The display used concave mirrors to trick the audience into thinking a light bulb was still blazing after it had been unscrewed from its socket. This sparked the scientist’s interest, and he began experimenting with concave and flat mirrors. While the former has a reflection on an object that appears to be behind the glass, the later has a reflection that appears to be in front of the glass, creating a three-dimensional illusion. This is the foundation of 3D technology. Thomas received the patent for the illusion transmitter four years later, on October 21, 1980, a technology that NASA still uses today.