GDBIT Showcase: Valerie Thomas, physicist, astronomer and inventor

Concave mirrors & 3D imaging

For the month of February, we’ll showcase a series of inspirational black people with powerful stories. Written by a member of our GoDaddy Black in Technology (GDBIT) group, this feature highlights Valerie Thomas.

Valerie Thomas — a force in the scientific community

Valerie Thomas HeadshotValerie Thomas, physicist, astronomer and inventor, was born in Maryland in 1943. Daughter of an amateur engineer, she was exposed to the inner workings of television sets and other small electronics at an early age.

This exposure would eventually spark an interest in Valerie, which would lead to a lifetime pursuit in the fields of science and technology. Unfortunately, at a young age, she did not receive the support of her family, as they often discouraged her from pursuing a career in the scientific field.

Thankfully, however, Valerie did not allow the naysayers to have the last word.

After graduating high school, she enrolled in Baltimore’s Morgan State University and pursued a degree in physics. One of only two women in the physics’ department at that time, Valerie excelled at her studies, ultimately capturing the attention of a prestigious American institution, NASA.

Work with mirrors

Shortly after graduation, she was hired to perform data analysis for NASA. Over the next 30 years, Valerie would serve in many roles for the institution, including being a program manager as well as an Associate Chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office. But one of her greatest accomplishments is tied to her research on how light is reflected between concave mirrors.

Intrigued by an experiment she observed in an exhibition, Valerie began a three-year study on how concave mirrors could be used to create illusions and how this technology could assist her work at NASA.

Subsequently, Valerie’s work lead to the invention of the illusion transmitter, a device which she received the patent for in 1980. While this device might sound like something out of a Star Trek episode, I can assure you that the technology is utilized in an arena much closer to home. An illusion transmitter uses concave mirrors to facilitate the production of 3D images to remote sites

Ipso facto, this is part of the technology that is utilized in the production of 3D movies.


The technology of the illusion transmitter has also been utilized at NASA, as well as in the medical field in certain surgical procedures. As can be observed, Valerie’s discovery has had many far-ranging benefits across several disciplines.

So the next time you see a 3D movie, remember Valerie Thomas and her pioneering work in the field of three-dimensional imaging.