Celebrating Valerie Thomas for Black History Month

February 25, 2021 / Parent Resources

This Black History Month, Osmo is celebrating Black mathematicians, scientists and inventors whose creative problem-solving paved the way for future innovators. We hope these stories inspire your kids to find their own brilliance and never give up on their next great idea.

Even as a child, Valerie Thomas found technology fascinating. People around her didn’t understand her interest in electronics, but she never lost her desire to explore. She finally got her chance to shine in college, where she majored in physics, a very uncommon path for women at the time. After graduation, she got a job at NASA. There, she further developed the problem solving skills that would help her become an inventor!

Some of Valerie Thomas’s Accomplishments:

  1. When NASA promoted Valerie, she took the lead on developing image-processing systems that transmitted the first images from outer space to capture multiple different wavelengths. Taken by the satellite “Landsat,” these images helped NASA better understand Earth’s resources.
  1. Valerie helped discover a possible use of “Landsat” in analyzing crops in 1974, including predicting how much wheat the world would grow. In fact, she led about 50 people to work on this massive project, known as the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment (LACIE).
  1. At a science exhibit in 1976, Valerie found inspiration in a light bulb. The bulb wasn’t in a lamp or plugged into anything, but it still glowed bright. This incredible illusion came from another bulb lit up nearby and a concave mirror. She sought to understand how the shape of a concave mirror created the illusion that the reflected object was in the real world, rather than within the mirror. She believed understanding this phenomenon would unlock the possibility of 3D video.
  1. In 1980, she patented the illusion transmitter. This tool that could transmit images in 3D by having concave mirrors on both ends of the transmission. The illusion transmitter is still used by NASA today, and even has the potential to help doctors accurately diagnose patients. Who knows, it might still make it to our television screens one day!
  1. Valerie was also very involved with the study of space at NASA. She helped create computer program designs that supported research on Halley’s Comet, the ozone layer, and satellite technology.

What Made Valerie Thomas Successful: Curiosity, Effective Problem Solving, and Determination

  1. The first step to becoming an innovator is to be as curious as possible. As a child, technology caught Valerie Thomas’ eye. She read about electronics and didn’t let the popular belief that girls didn’t belong in science stop her from exploring her interest.
  1. Before she started working at NASA, Valerie had only seen computers in science fiction movies. Her lack of experience presented a challenge, but instead of giving up on computer programming, she worked hard to understand everything she could about computers. If there was ever an opportunity to better understand computing, she took it.
  1. Before the advent of communication satellites and before she began working on “Landsat,” Valerie Thomas was charged with sorting and presenting scientific data from OGO (Orbiting Geophysical Observatory) experiments. Her drive, education, and experiences working at NASA enabled her to accomplish this task.
  1. While programming “Landsat,” Valerie realized how time-consuming the standard assembly language was. So, she took the initiative to learn a new programming language on her own. She applied her new expertise to write a program that transcribed the content of digital tapes into a readable format.

Want to Solve Problems Like Valerie Thomas? Get Osmo!

Valerie Thomas saw every challenge as an opportunity to learn and innovate. Osmo encourages your child to look for opportunities just like Valerie. When kids get curious and find creative solutions to problems with Osmo, they find the innovator within themselves. Shop our wide range of educational games, STEM education for kids, and interactive games for kids today!