Introducing Valerie Thomas, the pioneering NASA scientist behind the invention of 3D movies

Valerie Thomas, a Black woman and NASA scientist, played a pivotal role in shaping our entertainment experiences. Thanks to her contributions, beloved films like Avatar (2009) and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over became possible in 3D.

Throughout her career at NASA, she worked on groundbreaking projects and received prestigious awards such as the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit and NASA’s Equal Opportunity Medal. Valerie also dedicated her time to mentoring young individuals through NASA’s programs, giving back to her community. Her journey began when she developed an interest in science as a young girl.

During her childhood, Valerie’s fascination with STEM was sparked by observing her father’s work on the television and seeing the mechanical parts inside. At the age of eight, she delved into The Boy’s First Book on Electronics, although her father declined to assist her with the projects.

Despite facing obstacles like a lack of support at her all-girls school, Valerie managed to take a physics course. Undeterred, she pursued her studies at Morgan State University, where she was one of only two women majoring in physics. Excelling in mathematics and science, she graduated and joined NASA.

Valerie began her NASA career in 1964 as a data analyst. Over the years, she contributed to the development of real-time computer data systems and played a significant role in the creation of the Landsat program, becoming an international expert in Landsat data products.

Additionally, she led the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment (LACIE) project, demonstrating the potential of space technology in predicting worldwide wheat yield. Despite facing numerous challenges as an African-American woman, Valerie’s dedication and expertise propelled her to the position of associate chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office at NASA.

In 1976, Valerie attended a scientific seminar where she encountered an exhibit utilizing concave mirrors to create an illusion with a light bulb. Intrigued, she began experimenting with flat and concave mirrors, ultimately laying the foundation for 3D technology. In 1980, she obtained a patent for the illusion transmitter, a device still utilized by NASA today.

Valerie Thomas retired from NASA in August 1995, having made significant contributions throughout her career. Besides her scientific papers, she has left an indelible mark on the field of technology and continues to inspire others. Today, at 78 years old, she looks back on a remarkable journey as a trailblazing NASA scientist.