Honarary Fanbro: Valerie Thomas
They say art imitates life, but what about science fiction? Gamma ray guns, teleportation devices, holograms, and many other devices have yet to be based on anything in real-life. However, some scientists have made strides to invent some of these fantastic machines.
In honor of Black history month I chose to highlight Black American female inventor and scientist Valerie Thomas.
Thomas was always fascinated with electronics and technology from a young age, but being a girl, was not encouraged to pursue these interests. When she enrolled at Morgan State University, she decided to embrace them. She became one of two women in her class to major in physics. After graduation she began working at NASA in 1964 at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). She helped to develop real-time computer data systems for satellite operations control centers. Then from 1970 to 1981 she managed the development of the Landsat image processing data systems, the first satellite to send images from outer space. According to NASA, “The Landsat Program provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land in existence. Since 1972, Landsat satellites have collected measurements of Earth’s continents and surrounding coastal regions that have enabled people to study forests, food production, water and land use, ecosystems, geology, and more.”
During this period, she started experimenting with image transmission. In 1980, she patented her illusion transmitter. The invention is a television-like system for transmitting an illusion of an object. The invention was based on the properties of mirrors. A regular flat mirror shows a reflection of an object appearing behind the glass surface. A concave mirror presents a reflection that appears in front of the glass, which creates the 3D illusion. This was the beginning of 3D technology. The transmitter was first implemented in studying space phenomena and is still used to analyze images of distant space entities. Thomas’s technology was the groundwork for 3D movies and televisions today.
Thomas continued to work for NASA until her retirement in 1995 as the associate chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office. She has received a number of awards including the GSFC Award of Merit, the highest award given by the GSFC, and the NASA Equal Opportunity Medal. Her dedication to science, technology and paving a way for other Black women in math and science definitely qualify Valerie Thomas as an honorary fanbro.
“Inventors.” Facts on File Encyclopedia of Black Women in American:Science, Health, and Medicine. 1997. p.27. Print.
“Valerie Thomas Illusion Transmitter.” Lemelson-MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, September 2003. 8 February 2014.
Morelli, Joseph M. “The Illusion Transmitter.” Joseph M Morelli: Gender and Technology. Web. 8 February 2014.
Green, James L. “Valerie L. Thomas Retires.” NSSDC News. Vol. II, No. 3, September 1995. Web. 8 February 2014.
Irons, James R. “The Landstat Program.” NASA Landsat Science. NASA, 6 February 2014. Web. 8 February 2014.