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Thomas Larson (NTHS '09) - STEM

Thomas Larsen and his familyThomas Larson took an unexpected path after he graduated from North Thurston High School in 2009. An avid musician throughout his time in North Thurston Public Schools, Thomas played trombone in multiple band classes and sang in the choir his senior year.

“When it was time to take on college debt, someone said to me, ‘You can be an engineer and play music on the side, but you can’t play music professionally and be an engineer on the side,” Thomas says with a chuckle.

Mixed in with a full schedule of music classes at NTHS, Thomas always enjoyed his math and science courses. He remembers Mr. Glock and Mr. Horger especially well for their memorable classes in math and physics. “Mr. Glock and Mr. Horger were great teachers,” Thomas explains. “They really drove my interest in these areas.” He credits these teachers for his motivation to earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Washington, which he completed in 2013.

Thomas Larson in high school“Even if you are passionate about subjects outside the STEM field, it’s important to engage with the material in order to keep your options open,” Thomas encourages current students. Doing so led him to some of the most important opportunities of his life.

During his time at UW, one of his engineering professors invited Thomas to work on a unique microscope he’d been developing. Thomas accepted, and this opportunity led him to develop a series of small plastic lenses that stick to cell phone cameras, effectively turning the phone camera into a microscope. A wildly successful Kickstarter campaign launched Thomas into his first career. He even obtained the patent for the product.

“I had originally hoped that there could be a big medical impact in the developing world for having a portable microscope, but the biggest impact ended up being on schools and students,” Thomas explains. “At the time, it was pretty unique, but I think the Kickstarter success convinced more experienced inventors and manufacturers that they could have a commercially successful mobile microscope.”

Thomas was at a trade show hosted by the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) to promote these microscopes when he ran into a familiar face. Mrs. Glock (yes, his favorite math teacher’s spouse) had been Thomas’s fifth and sixth grade teacher at Pleasant Glade Elementary, and their paths crossed again at an NSTA conference in 2014. By then, Mrs. Glock was teaching middle school science, and she invited Thomas to visit her classes and talk about his career as an entrepreneur in the STEM field.

Thomas moved back to Olympia a few years later and started a job at Diamond Technology Innovations, a manufacturer of diamonds, rubies and sapphires for use in water jet cutters. This equipment uses the manufactured gems to pump water at extremely high pressures to cut through dense materials.

“What I like about working in manufacturing in the STEM field is the sense of continuity with all the previous people who made things,” Thomas explains. “There’s also a mission and a feeling of purpose to keep the knowledge of manufacturing alive after what has been decades of decline in our country.”

He now works at Bradken, a foundry in Tacoma that builds massive steel parts for submarines and aircraft carriers. “I’m not getting my hands dirty anymore, though,” Thomas says. “I’m in the office handling contracts.”

Thomas still lives in Olympia with his wife Chloe and their one-year-old daughter Maggie. They love to spend time in their garden and tend to their small flock of chickens. Thomas still plays his trombone and looks forward to playing in a community band again once social gatherings are permitted.