Curious about how light and concave mirrors could be used in her work at NASA, she began her research in 1977.
This involved creating an experiment in which she observed how the position of a concave mirror would affect the real object that it reflected. Using this technology, she would invent the illusion transmitter.
On October 21, 1980, she obtained the patent for the illusion transmitter, a device that NASA continues to use today.
The device is used to send images from space to earth. The device produces optical illusion images via two concave mirrors.
Unlike flat mirrors, which produce images that appear to be inside, or behind the mirror, concave mirrors create images that appear to be real, or in front of the mirror itself. The technology, still in use by NASA, also enabled the creation of magnetic resonance imaging and 3-dimensional television.
Thomas retired from NASA and her positions of associate chief of NASA’s Space Science Data Operations Office, manager of the NASA Automated Systems Incident Response Capability and as chair of the Space Science Data Operations Office Education Committee at the end of August 1995.
In her retirement, Thomas serves as an associate at the UMBC Center for Multicore Hybrid Productivity Research.
She continued to serve as a mentor for youth through the SMART (Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology and National Technical) Association.