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Boston Museum Honors GTE Chemist With 1991 New England Inventor Award (The Scientist, Vol:5, #6, pg. 22, March 18, 1991) (Copyright, The Scientist, Inc.)
---------- Martha J.B. Thomas, former director of technical services at GTE Electrical Products Group in Danvers, Mass., has been named the 1991 New England Inventor by the Museum of Science in Boston. The award is given annually to an individual whose application of science and technology, creativity, and independent thought has positively impacted society. Thomas received a plaque commemorating the honor at a February 7 reception that began the 13th annual Inventors Weekend Exhibition at the museum.
Thomas's primary area of research was fluorescent lighting. She tested various materials for their capacity to fluoresce, developed products, and set up pilot plants. Thomas holds 24 patents for her lighting inventions, ranging from actual lighting technology to improvements in lamp manufacturing methods. Thomas, who retired last year, began working in the chemistry lab at Sylvania Electric Products, now a division of GTE, in 1945, just prior to the end of World War II. Although she was just 19 years old, and a woman, she doesn't feel that these factors impinged on her career. "There weren't many boys around," she remembers. "They were all at war, so I had a field day." Thomas says that although there were five other women in her lab when she began, she was the only one who stayed on when the men began returning to the job. "I suppose they could call me a pioneer, but I never felt that way," she says.
When Thomas graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1945, she had plans to become a physician. Although she was accepted to several medical schools, she was told that she should work for a few years before enrolling. "They said I was a little too young. They wanted me to get `seasoned,'" she recalls. "I got a position in chemistry [at Sylvania] and fell in love with it--I never left." Thomas received her Ph.D. in chemistry at Boston University in 1952, while working at Sylvania. Nearly 30 years later, in 1981, she earned her MBA at Boston's Northeastern University. Thomas decided to study for a business degree when she became a director at GTE because, she says, "I thought I didn't understand the other executives." She found after she got the degree, however, that it really didn't make much difference. "It was my own insecurity," she says. "I really did know as much as the others."
Thomas emphasizes that all of her upper-level degrees were earned with the help of Sylvania and GTE, through programs that paid her tuition and gave her time off for her coursework. She laments that employers are an education resource that are too often ignored by young people seeking advanced degrees and training. While many companies have such programs, she says, employees often don't know they exist. In addition to her work at GTE, Thomas taught chemistry in Boston University's evening division from the time she got her Ph.D. until 1970. --Rebecca Andrews