Home News Local news Black History Spotlight: Edward Thomas Jr.

Black History Spotlight: Edward Thomas Jr.

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Feb. 14, 2007 — As a young boy in territory, Edward Thomas often gazed at the canopy of stars blanketing the night sky, perhaps shaping his destiny as a scientist who studies those same stars in hopes of capturing their energy for earthly uses.
From the age of five, Thomas said he began to show interest in science. It was around that time that he went on a family trip to the Kennedy Space Center. "I fell in love [with science]," Thomas said. "I knew then that I would do something in science."
Thomas said the trip really focused him on a scientific career, and he began feeding his passion with independent study.
Thomas said fate also intervened to guide his steps toward a scientific career. When he was in fifth grade he visited his uncle, a marine biologist, in Massachusetts for the summer. Thomas was elated to be able to accompany his uncle to the lab where he worked. It was his first real experience being around the scientific community.
"The people there were really cool," Thomas said. "They were completely passionate about what they were doing. They talked to me like I was an adult, not a little kid."
Thomas continued advancing his intellectual career, attending several acclaimed schools and achieving high honors in the science field.
Today Thomas is a tenured associate professor of physics at Auburn University in Alabama. In addition to his teaching duties, he directs the Plasma Sciences Laboratory, leading a research team that includes a post-doctoral researcher, five graduate students, and two undergrads.
It is his work with plasma sciences that is his passion, Thomas says. "If I could stay home and think all day about plasma science, I would be a happy man," he said. Thomas is one of a worldwide team of scientists collaborating to create a fusion reactor that would harness the power of the stars.
Their task is to determine how plasma, which makes stars burn hot and give off light, can be recreated in a controlled environment on earth. If it could be done, Thomas said, it would solve the world's energy problems.
Thomas is part of ITER (iter is Latin for "the way"), a joint international research and development project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power. For more information about ITER, go to its website.
Understanding plasma and its effects in the space environment is another focus of Thomas' research. Communication satellites in space run into plasma waves, which can disrupt transmissions. Thomas' work attempts to simulate and understand the space environment to assist producers of communication systems to better work in space. He collaborates with the Naval Research Laboratories on this project.
Born on St. Thomas in November 1968 to Edward and Lucia Thomas, Thomas attended the Moravian, Lutheran, and All Saints Schools. He graduated from the Charlotte Amalie High School in 1985.
He received a bachelor’s in physics from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1989 and a master’s in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993. Three years later, he received his doctorate from Auburn University in Alabama. His graduate studies focused on experimental plasma physics and fusion energy research.
From 1996 to 1999, he was an assistant professor of physics at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. In January 2000, he returned to Auburn, where he presently teaches and is involved in research activities.
Thomas and his wife, Wendy, reside in Auburn and are the proud parents of Edward, 12, and Maya, 7.
Thomas says the key to success is to be enthusiastic about what you choose to do in life.
"Find something that makes you excited and do that," Thomas said. "I firmly believe that whatever you want to do, you have to be passionate about it."
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