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17.11.2013 Feature Article

The Global Achievements Of Dr. Victor Lawrence

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To start with, in both Part l and Part ll of “A Great Ghanaian Scientist: Dr. Victor Lawrence,” we attempted to use Dr. Lawrence's outstanding achievements in the world to question the inadequacies of our indigenous institutions to churn out great minds as he. In fact, it did turn out that readers wanted more than our questions: They wanted to know more about the specifics of Dr. Lawrence's crowning achievements. Again, to begin with, Dr. Victor Lawrence is the Batcheler Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering and Associate Dean for Special Programs in the Charles V. Schafer, Jr. School of Engineering, Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey, America.

Now let's get to the details. Indeed, Dr. Lawrence's transformative contributions are global in scope. The impact of his contributions is most felt most in communication technology, the field of telecommunications. Given that communication is one, if not the most important, of the foundations of human relations, we cannot overemphasize how technological advances make human psychosocialization possible. Moreover, technological advances in communication also add value to sociology, globalization, and human psychology.

This is why the work of Drs. Molefi Kete Asante and Noam Chomsky, communication experts, and of Dr. Victor Lawrence, a telecommunication expert, are important to our growth and development. Importantly, both communication and telecommunication have varied applications in medicine, banking, agriculture, pharmacy, national security, journalism, artificial intelligence, navigational systems, military, public-relations consultancy, warfare, politics, etc. Teleprompter and sound synthesizer technologies benefit hugely from advances in communication and telecommunication theories.

Again, in the area of medicine and pharmacy, for instance, Bright Simmons' mPedigree and Ashifi Gogo's Sproxil have benefited from advances in telecommunication technologies. That's, both innovations could not have been possible without SMS/GSM mobile networks. And this is where the transformative work of Dr. Lawrence comes in. Stevens Institute of Technology's “University News” reports: “Lawrence is renowned for his pioneering work in global telecommunications which have paved the way for many developments in broadband, DSL, HDTV technologies and wireless data transfer and helped to spur the growth of the internet worldwide.”

What are DSL, HDTV, and broadband technologies? DSL is digital subscriber line. HDTV is high-definition television. Broadband refers to a transmission technique which employs a broad range of frequencies. Further, DSL makes digital transmission of data across the wires of telephone network through internet access possible. HDTV is another name for a new variety of television, which gives better resolution than relatively older versions of television broadcasting formats, in other words, formats whose resolutions are based on standard-definition television (analog television). In plain terms, HDTV is a kind of digital television. What is a digital TV? A digital TV is a technology which transmits widescreen images with appreciable detail and quality.

Therefore, we can understand why Dr. Lawrence's work is so important. Again, SIT's “University News” writes: “Prior to joining Stevens, he had a 30-year career at Bell Laboratories, where he held a variety of positions, including Vice President of Advanced Communications Technology, and contributed to cutting-edge and impactful research and development in signal processing and communications. His signal processing to data communication has led to many significant advances in high-speed transmission over the public switched telephone networks (PSTN). In addition, his advancements in V-series modern technology and international standards enabled the interoperability of computer networks across the globe.”

In non-technical language, public switched telephone network simply refers to the collection of the world's telephone network systems. It is a composite system made up of submarine telephone and fiber optic cables, communication satellites, mobile networks, radio waves, and telephone circuits. Moreover, the system is controlled by switching centers through operators. On the other hand, the mathematics/physics of V-Series has useful engineering applications in modem interface. Therefore, V-series aids in wireless data transmission and inter-communication across computer networks. In this sense, the fingerprints of Dr. Lawrence's innovations are everywhere.

In addition, Dr. Lawrence is also the founding director of iNets: Center for Intelligent Networked Systems, founded in 2006. According to Stevens Institute of Technology's Schaeffer School of Engineering and Science (Electrical & Computer Engineering Department) website, “the Center for Intelligent Networked Systems was established in 2006 as a Stevens Institute Research Center.” Dr. Lawrence hopes to use the research institute to improve the capabilities of embedded intelligence through networked systems past what he describes as “the primary end-to-end data delivery services of today's networks.”

Then again, enhancing both the performance and data transmission rates across networked systems is what is going to drive the primary research focus of the Center. That said, Dr. Lawrence plans to realize his goal of improving the interoperability performance of network systems through the construction of infrastructural correlation between intelligence networks and what the Center calls “attached equipments.” This project goal, if successful, has immense ramifications for enhancing the capabilities of public switched telephone networks, HDTV, and DSL, and broadband technologies.

This is why his unquestionable impact on the global telecommunications industry must be applauded and celebrated by all. Furthermore, Dr. Lawrence “was the architect and lead engineer behind AT&T's first 2400 bps full duplex modem; he played a significant role in the development of every major international voiceband modem standard; and over the years, he continued to lead the innovations that resulted in modems up to 56 kbps,” according to the website of IEEE Global History Network. This is phenomenally transformative.

Dr. Lawrence has been honored with several prestigious accolades. This includes his being made a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He is also a respected member of the American National Academy of Engineering. He holds numerous patents, more than 20 U.S. and international patents, according to the website of “Business Wire: A Berkshire Hathaway Company.” Dr. Lawrence has also co-written five important books in his area of expertise. Moreover, he has served on Telkom's board of directors, Africa's largest integrated communications company, advising South Africa's President on developing a national broadband network. Dr. Lawrence has also carried out several entrepreneurial technology projects with Globespan.

Additionally, according to the website of Afri-Tech: Connecting Africa with Global Market, Dr. Lawrence once served as “Vice President of Communications Technology Research at Lucent Bell Laboratories where he managed an R&D staff of over 500 technologists responsible for the development of technologies for worldwide communications networks.” The website continues: “Over the past several years at Bell Labs, he managed a worldwide R&D organization, with branches in Beijing and Shanghai in China and in Hilversum and Twente in the Netherlands, as well as four states in the US.”

Yet Dr. Lawrence taught at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology before joining Bell Labs in 1974. Before proceeding further, let's make a few comments about the caliber of Bell Labs: Bell Laboratories has been credited with inventing the UNIX operating system, transistor, laser, and charge-coupled device; information theory; S, C, and C++ programming languages; and radio astronomy (Wikipedia). Bell Labs has also produced seven Nobel laureates. Meanwhile, regarding awards, Dr. Lawrence has received many including the 1997 Emmy Award for the HDVT Grand Alliance Standard and the 2004 IEEE Award in International Communication, according to the website of IEEE Global History Network.

The most important question to ask is this: What has he done for Africa? His company, Baharicom Development Corporation, is constructing a high-capacity, broadband underwater cable along the coast of West Africa, this, according to the article, “Dr. Victor Lawrence of Stevens Institute of Technology is Named Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors,” published in “University News,” Stevens Institute of Technology. The article goes on to say that Dr. Lawrence is “championing the effort to bring fiber optic connectivity to Africa and to improve the communication infrastructure of the world's poorest countries.”

Why was Dr. Lawrence named Charter Fellow of the American National Academy of Inventors? According to the “University News” article mentioned in the previous paragraph, “election to National Academy of Inventors Fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.”

Who else received this honor? Eight Nobel laureates, twelve presidents of research universities and non-profit organizations, two Fellows of the Royal Society, eleven National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, four National Medal of Science recipients, twenty-nine AAAS Fellows, three National Medal of Technology and Innovation recipients, and fifty members of the National Academies (Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering), were named to Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors alongside Dr. Victor Lawrence. He was, therefore, in a great company.

Finally, how were Dr. Lawrence and his peers elected to the National Academy of Inventors? “Academic inventors and innovators elected to the rank of NAI Charter were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.” Why are some claiming Dr. Lawrence has not done anything for the world? Who says African ingenuity has no place in the global marketplace of ideas? And who says the African youth don't need a positive role model in Lawrence, Mazama, Asante, Nyarko, and several others?

This leads us to the political economy of investment in R&D, of creating the proper environments (political, social, infrastructural, educational, economic) for our brilliant young men and women who have so much to offer the continent. In this context, are Ghana and Africa looking closely at the inherent problems preventing our indigenous institutions from producing great men and women such as Mazama, Nyarko, Selasi, Lawrence, and Asante? In fact, we need to seriously work on these questions. (See the Jan. 18, 2013 edition of the “Chronicle of Higher Education,” Forbes Magazine (online), “Technology and Innovation-Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors,” and Jan. 2013 issue of “Inventors Digest” for additional information on Dr. Victor Lawrence).

Francis Kwarteng
Francis Kwarteng, © 2013

The author has 580 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: franciskwarteng

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