Thomas Mensah: The Ghanaian Engineer Who Contributed To Fibre Optics Invention

Thomas Mensah: The Ghanaian Engineer Who Contributed To Fibre Optics Invention

  • Dr Thomas Mensah is a Ghanaian who became one of four geniuses to make history after inventing fibre optics, a technology used to transmit data in global telecommunications, medicine and other fields
  • The invention has revolutionised the internet and facilitated the seamless transmission of data for billions of people worldwide
  • Mensah studied chemical engineering at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. He later landed a full scholarship for a PhD at Montpellier University in France and continued his training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US

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Communicating with loved ones through various social media platforms such as Facebook and finding answers to various questions through simple google searches has been made possible thanks to the single brilliant work of a Ghanaian engineer, Dr Thomas Mensah, and his colleagues who made history after inventing fibre optics, a technology for digital communication used in fields such as telecommunications, defence, engineering and medicine.

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Fibre optics technology transmits information as light pulses along a glass or plastic fibre.

Dr Mensah's work with fibre optics has given him worldwide recognition. His contribution to improving the processes involved in manufacturing fibre optic cables helped enhance the cost-effectiveness of those cables, paving the path for the use of fibre optics technology in the world to a far greater extent.

He grew up in Kumasi and was the proud son of J. K. Mensah, a cocoa farmer who used to export cocoa beans to France. He learnt how to speak French by the age of eight from a Togolese neighbour; with that, Thomas played a significant role in his father's dealings with France.

Studying at KNUST and winning a french scholarship to pursue PhD at Montpellier University in France

At the age of 13, he moved from Wesley College Practice School to continue his secondary education at Adisadel Colledge. Afterwards, the brilliant young man proceeded to Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to pursue his first degree in Chemical Engineering.

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Dr Thomas Mensah posing for the camera Photo credit: Thomas Mensah
Source: UGC

For his PhD, Dr Mensah received a French government scholarship to study at Montpellier University in France. However, just before he completed, he got advice from his father to move to the US and build a career there rather than return to Ghana, and he heeded that.

"That was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was a defining moment in my life because I got to have practical experience of what I had learnt in school in some of the best industries working with some of the best engineers."

In 1977, Dr Mensah acquired a certificate in the modelling and simulation of chemical processes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

After school, the genius got employed by Corning Glass Works in New York, thanks to his professors at MIT. There, he was put on a research team of four and was the only Black person to find a way to move fibre optics from the lab to commercialisation. He ended up building the fastest fibre optics draw and coating process, 50 meters per second, in just one year.

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In an interview, Dr Mensah revealed that prior to having a breakthrough in commercializing fibre optics, the company had been trying to achieve that for 15 years with no success until he came on board.

Dr Thomas Owusu Mensah, becoming a fellow at the US National Academy Of Inventors

In 2014, Dr Mensah's breakthrough in commercializing fibre optics got him admitted into the National Academy of Inventors, making him the first African to do so. In an interview on VOA Africa, Dr Mensah shared details on how he made history;

"There were 167 inventors who were recognized and out of them, there were only 3 Black people and I was among the 3. These are guys who control like 14,000 patents in all areas of technology in the US and so those were very elite people I was recognized alongside with", he said.
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In an interview on Angel 102.9FM, the driven Ghanaian inventor revealed that he is committed to helping Ghana develop; hence he works about 12 hours a day to make that a reality. An initiative he plans on bringing to light is introducing bullet trains to improve transportation in the country.

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"I really want to bring change in Ghana. Introducing a bullet train can reduce Accra-Kumasi duration from 4 hours to 1 hour and Accra-Tamale can be just 4 hours not 8-12 hours. This would change Ghana extremely and reduce the number of accidents", Dr Mensah said.
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Launching Silicon Valley Of Ghana to train Ghanaian youth

In an interview on JoyNews, Dr Mensah shared that after achieving many accolades worldwide, thanks to his invention, he knew it was time to focus on developing his motherland, Ghana. He, therefore, put together a 100-day agenda for innovations to move the country forward, which included building factories in all regions, power generation, drones to deliver medicine and establishing Ghana's very own Silicon Valley to promote technology and innovation, among other agenda.

Dr Mensah revealed that he was particularly interested in putting the operation of Silicon Valley into full force and hence began works on it earlier. As a result, in 2018, the Silicon Valley of Ghana was launched at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT (GI-KACE). It is currently under the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Science and Technology.

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To ensure the success of the Silicon Valley of Ghana, the inventor stated in an interview that suitable projects that would attract good funding would be required. He added that brilliant minds need to be on board, and he believes that Ghanaian institutions have several of them.

"Ghanaian students have the basics already. All they need are expects who would come in and help train them to their fullest potentials and point them in the right direction", Thomas said.

For Dr Mensah, the ultimate goal is to move Ghana out of poverty through the invention and operation of technology. He firmly believes that if other countries have been able to achieve that with larger populations, Ghana can do the same.

The impact the Ghanaian genius has made with his invention is enormous. This has seen him receive awards from institutions like the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Institute of Chemical Engineering, African Scientific Institute, Ghana Institute of Engineering and the Genius award from KNUST, among others.

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Knowing the full importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, the government of Ghana has made it a goal to make Ghana a leader in STEM education in the world and to train more engineers like Dr Mensah.

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