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We Really Want to be a Scientist: The story of Valerie Thomas

Valerie Thomas 1943-

One of my favorite theme parks to visit, is Island of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. I absolutely love that place: the scenery, cartoon characters, food (I'm having a skinny girl fat moment as I write this) and of course the rides. One of my favorite attraction there, is the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man. It's a motion placed and 3D dark ride, that allows you to experience, what it's like to be Spider man. If you are reading this, you are probably wondering why I am writing about a ride? Trust me, I am going to tell you: just keep reading. Let me introduce you to Valerie Thomas.

Valerie Thomas was born in May of 1943. At an early age, Valerie gained an infatuation with electronics. Thomas not even realizing, that her curiosity with her father's electronics, such as the television, radio, and camera, would develop her passion for science and technology. It wasn't encouraged for girls during that time to even think about science. That didn't stop Valerie though, at the age of 8, she began reading a book called, "The Boy's First Book on Electronics". Despite her father's own interest in electronics, he would not work on any projects with her.

Valerie attended an all girls private school, where she excelled in all of her subjects. She went on to attend Morgan State University, where she earned a degree in Physics. Valerie was one of only two women to earn that degree during that time. Being an African - American woman, and choosing a path for Mathematics and Science, not sought by females at that time, made her really stand out. She faced so much adversity but still ended up winning.

After she graduated from Morgan, she accepted a position from NASA to become a data analyst. She developed real- time data computer systems, to support satellite operations and oversaw the creation of the Landsat program in 1970 through 1981. This was the first satellite to send images to Earth from space. Valerie was shaking and shaping the world of NASA.

In 1976, Valerie attended a exhibition that included 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, made her wheels start turning. She became intrigued in the idea of how a light bulb and concave mirrors could be used in her work at NASA. In 1977, she began 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, Thomas received a patent for the illusion transmitter. The device produces optical illusion images by two concave mirrors, which is a mirror with curves. 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.

Lets stop and rewind back to when I was talking about Spider Man. One of the reasons that the ride is so alluring, is because of its 3D effect. Everything and every person seems like they are right in front of you. That makes the ride so exciting and when it comes to one of the villains in the ride, I feel like I can reach out and punch them in the face. We can thank Valerie Thomas for this technology, because of her, this is being used in surgeries, and in the production of television and video screens. She paved the way for our current 3D technology.

Valerie Thomas is a woman who didn't let the norms of society stop her from following her passion. She is trail blazer and a inventor. She believed in herself and knew that she could make a difference in the lives of others. So next time you are sitting in a theater watching a movie, or riding an attraction that is in 3D, think about my sister Valerie Thomas. She is the reason why we can enjoy this luxury.


Hidden Figure No More: NASA inventor Valerie Thomas (October 21,2017) Retrieved from

Morelli M. Joseph. The biography of Valerie Thomas

Retrieved from

Valerie Thomas. The website. Retrieved from from

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