AFRICAN-AMERICAN ENGINEERS' CONTRIBUTIONS TO COMMUNICATIONS

In the past and present, many African-American engineers have contributed to the field of communications to benefit mankind. Whether it be the telephone, telegraph, radio, or computer, African-American engineers have played a cruci al role in the improvement and development of new technology to improve communications. Despite the color of their skin, their inventive and ingenious ideas have obviously helped to remold the world. These engineers have invented a gambit of new techniqu es, materials, and technology, from the grafting and manufacturing of new materials to the implementation of new technological genius to improve the field of communications. It is because of these scientists that much of the world’s advancement in commun ications has taken place.

The inventiveness of early African-American engineers’ contributions in the field of communications goes back to the creation of the telegraph and telephone systems. Granville T. Woods held over 150 patents on electro-mechan ical devices that he sold to American Bell Telephone and General Electric. He created many inventions that improved the quality of telegraphy and telephone instruments, just to name a few areas he improved with his genius. During his time he was dubbed & quot;Black Edison" for his inventive prowess in communications and electric circuit and motor developments. In fact, Woods sued Thomas Edison for infringement on patents that Edison stole from him and won each case. Woods’ main contribution to the fi eld of communications entailed the invention of the "Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph" (railway induction telegraph), as he named his invention. In Woods’ words he says the invention was designed "for the purpose of averting acciden ts by keeping each train informed of the whereabouts of the one immediately ahead or following it, in communication with stations from moving trains; and in promoting general social and commercial intercourse."

Much like Granville T. Woods’ system helped communication between trains through railroads, Walter Hawkins’ development of a stronger polymer made communication between continents possible, through telephone wires on the ocean floor . Hawkins graduated from Howard University with an M.S. in Chemical Engineering and received a Ph. D. from McGill University. In 1942, Bell Laboratories hired Hawkins, who became the first African-American MTS. During his employment at Bell Labs, he ha d 14 patents, including a patent for a multi-conductor communication cable. After retirement from Bell Labs, he was the first African American inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and received the National Medal of Technology award.

While Hawkins was improving telephone communication, Rufus P. Turner revolutionized the use and convenience of radio technology. Turner developed the first tiny radio known as the walkman. His invention made it possible for many of the tubes used to communicate in the field of war to be reduced to the size of the hand-held walkie talkies we have today. Turner was not only a great inventor but a prolific writer. He wrote over 45 textbooks and 3,000 art icles. Despite his achievements he found time to be helpful in his community. He would volunteer at his local neighborhood church and operate its radio station.

More recently, African Americans have revolutionized communications through computer science. William R. Northover, a chemist, is doing advanced research with glass. The speed of light gives fiber lightguides (commonly know n as fiber optics) tremendous capacity for carrying information over great distances. Ingeniously, Northover has tripled the distance of light pulses before they are regenerated. Although the time difference is barely noticeable (in millionths of a seco nd), it limits the light transmission speed of closely packed bits of information. Northover made this discovery while doing research to produce the fiber. He integrated the precise amount of germanium vapor into the melting process to form the glass fib ers. Also, while working for Bell Labs, Northover has increased knowledge about glass properties. He initially worked on the laws of melting glass in search of cooling suited to lengthen the performance life of early transistors. He also worked with gl ass that could conduct current under controlled conditions (semi-conductors) and searched for others that would amplify light.

Just as Northover has created new types of glass to increase the speed of light in fiber optic technology for long-distance communication, Courtland Robinson has tested and researched new materials to protect and increase the stress capabilities of microelectronics devices. He supervises the research at Film and Hybrid Technology Laboratory at Allentown, Pennsylvania. An experimental procedure called "accelerated life testing" puts the microelectronic devices through a series of stress tests simultaneously equivalent to a year. The experiments Robinson conducts are unique because they use special test circuits, much simpler than the real devices, which avoid collecting data irrelevant to the problem being studied. He raises power levels while the polymer-coated circuits are cooked in a hot and humid oven (temperatures as high as 85 percent humidity). The results enable the researchers to better define properties and to formulate new guidelines for making polymers t o coat microelectronic devices.

Another modern contributor to computer communications, Jesse R. Russell, Sr., showed how the first commercial computer-on-a-chip could do more processing and more cheaply when applied to telecommunications than a series of simple el ectronic components. He achieved this by taking a computer and programming a set code of instructions into the computer. Then, he would take the information and dump it into the microprocessor. The information could always be edited and updated and dump ed back into the microprocessor.Russell designed devices, using Intel’s

first microprocessor, which did only central processing tasks that used auxiliary chips to enter and retrieve information. He gave the microprocessor instructions to collect data from telecommunication switching machines and to deliver this information to a larger computer. "Russell’s final contribution to the terminal was to show how the Intel device could be replaced by a Bell Labs-designed microprocessor, without changing any other hardware"(Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern.)

These scientists, from various fields, are just drops in the bucket when it comes to African-Americans’ contributions to the developments in the field of communications. Nonetheless, they have made some of the greatest and most sig nificant contributions to humanity and have overcome precarious situations of being African-American inventors. Despite their hardships they have persevered and their achievements have surely earned them respect among engineers in America and worldwide.

---Vyron Alexander