Valerie Thomas was born in May of 1943, in Maryland. She showed interest in technology but despite her fascination, she was never encouraged to pursue her interest. And although her father was also interested in electronics, he would not help young Valerie with projects. Determined to learn about science, eight-year-old Valerie checked out a book titled 'The Boy's First Book On Electronics' and created science projects on her own.
Thomas attended an all-girl high school which placed very little emphasis on math and science. Upon graduating from high school, Thomas became one of two women at the time to major in physics at Morgan State University. She excelled in her studies and once she graduated from Morgan State, she accepted a job as a data analyst with NASA.
While working at NASA, Thomas proved to be a highly valuable employee. In the 1970s, she oversaw the development of the image-processing system for Landsat. Landsat was the first satellite capable of sending images from outer space back down to Earth.
Thomas later developed the illusion transmitter for which she received the patent for in 1980. The illusion transmitter creates optical illusion images using two concave mirrors. The unique shape of the mirrors produces an image that appears real or 3D. This technology was later adopted by NASA and has been used in surgery and to make TV screens.
Thomas continued working for NASA until she retired in 1995. She had held numerous positions with NASA, like Project Manager of the Space Physics Analysis Network which allowed her to contribute immensely to space exploration.
Thomas' inventions improved the way we study space. She created a computer program that allowed scientists to study Halley's Comet, the ozone layer, satellites, etc. Thomas has received a number of awards, including the Goddard Space Flight Center Award. She also mentored youth who were interested in math and science, teaching a new generation of scientists.