Black Excellence At Its Finest: This African American Scientist Invented 3D Movies And Television

by Gee NY
Image Credit: NASA

In the annals of scientific history, the contributions of African American scientists often go unnoticed or underappreciated.

However, one remarkable individual has broken barriers and left an indelible mark on technology: Valerie Thomas, the inventor of 3D movies and television.

Born in Maryland in February 1943, Valerie Thomas harbored a passion for technology from a young age, despite the lack of encouragement she received.

Undeterred, she pursued her interests and graduated with a degree in physics, becoming one of only two women majoring in physics at Morgan State University.

Thomas’s career trajectory took a groundbreaking turn when she joined NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

At NASA, she played a pivotal role in various research projects, including managing the development of image-processing systems for Landsat, the first satellite to transmit images of Earth from space.

Valerie Thomas. Image Credit: SAHAR COSTON-HARDY

In 1980, Valerie Thomas achieved a milestone that would revolutionize visual technology. She received a patent for an illusion transmitter, a device capable of creating optical illusion images using concave mirrors.

Unlike flat mirrors, which reflect images behind them, concave mirrors produce images that appear real or in front of the mirror itself.

This breakthrough technology, initially adopted by NASA, later found applications in surgery, television, and video screens.

Thomas’s contributions extended beyond her groundbreaking invention. Throughout her career at NASA, which spanned until her retirement in 1995, she held various positions, including Project Manager of the Space Physics Analysis Network and Associate Chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office.

Her work encompassed diverse areas, from computer program designs for Halley’s Comet research to satellite technology development.

Despite facing obstacles and lack of early support for her interests, Valerie Thomas’s perseverance and achievements earned her numerous accolades, including the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit and the NASA Equal Opportunity Medal.

Beyond her professional accomplishments, Thomas dedicated herself to mentoring youths, inspiring future generations of scientists and engineers.

Valerie Thomas’s legacy serves as a testament to the power of determination, innovation, and the enduring impact of Black excellence in the field of science and technology.

Her pioneering work continues to shape the landscape of visual technology and inspire aspiring scientists worldwide.

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