In today’s world, the ability to connect with anyone, in any place, at any time is something that is often taken for granted. With the tap of a few buttons, we’re able to connect with family, friends and colleagues in a matter of seconds. Though these connections might seem quick and effortless, the science behind this technological feat has taken years of research and development from dedicated engineers.
National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Victor Lawrence is a leading example of this dedication. Throughout his career, Lawrence has advanced signal processing in communications. His work has improved transmission for the modern internet and has made high-speed connections more available. Thanks to Lawrence, people everywhere can stay connected from a distance, so we never have to miss out on important moments.
Becoming an Engineer
Lawrence was born in Accra, Ghana, in 1945. In an interview with NIHF, he recalled the importance of education in his family. After his father died when Lawrence was only nine years old, his mother became the family’s sole provider. For this reason, he explained, “It was very important for me and for my sister to be able to study and to be able to get scholarships, because that was the only way we could educate ourselves.”
In the 1960s, Lawrence remembered hearing on the radio that John Glenn had become the first American to orbit the Earth. He also listened to President John F. Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the Moon” speech in 1962. For Lawrence, these events were moments that spurred his interest in pursuing science and technology.
Lawrence went on to attend the Imperial College of Science and Technology at the University of London where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering. Upon graduating in 1972, he stayed in England to work for the General Electric Co. while also working as a postdoctoral trainee at Imperial College. It was during this time that he was approached by recruiters from Bell Laboratories — then still a part of AT&T — and learned about opportunities to work in the United States.
Accomplishments in Telecommunications
Lawrence began working at Bell Labs in 1974, where he embarked on research and development for signal processing and communications. As a subfield of electrical engineering, signal processing involves analyzing, modifying and synthesizing signals. Communications systems use signal processing across satellite, video, radio and wireless systems, making the processing and transmission of data more efficient.
Lawrence’s early work involved applying digital signal processing to data communications. Into the late 1980s and early 1990s, this led to advances such as voice-band modems and DSL. Lawrence also led development of the “Studio Encoder” and the receiver chipset for the Sirius Satellite Radio system. His accomplishments helped turn the internet into a global industry as he pioneered methods for including more information in a signal, facilitating the introduction of digital video and radio, and the development of high-definition and digital television.
Inspiring the Future
Today, Lawrence serves as an electrical engineering professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology. He has co-written five books and has frequently lectured on technology, technology management and innovation. As an advocate for bringing internet access to all nations, Lawrence has spearheaded efforts to lay high-capacity fiber optic cable along the west coast of Africa.
Lawrence’s commitment to helping others succeed is rooted in his knowledge that good mentors can make all the difference. He puts this belief into practice by participating as a Judge in the Collegiate Inventors Competition® (CIC) and visiting Camp Invention® summer programs where he inspires future innovators.
“If you want to see far, you have to stand on somebody’s shoulder. It’s very important that I can have a strong shoulder for others to stand on and be able to encourage them to do even greater things than I have achieved,” he says.
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