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Thomas Mensah Biography - Studied in France and the United States, Pioneered Technology Applied During Gulf War

engineering fiber georgia chemical

1950—

Scientist, entrepreneur

Ghanaian-born materials scientist Thomas Mensah has had a high-flying career, first as a scientist and then as an entrepreneur. Mensah has at least 14 patents to his name, has edited two books and authored several articles, and has been involved with several of the fastest-growing fields in engineering, notably fiber optics and superconductor technology. Late in his career Mensah attempted to turn his theoretical knowledge into moneymaking enterprises, but his efforts ran up against some of the obstacles that face scholars who plunge into the hard world of finance facts and figures. He has an impressive record of accomplishment as one of the few blacks, and even fewer Africans, to excel at the highest levels of science.

Thomas O. Mensah was born in Kumasi, Ghana, in 1950. He attended school in his home country up to the undergraduate level, receiving a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi (now known as the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) in 1974. In addition to his scientific prowess, his facility with foreign languages helped set him on the path to international prominence. In the Ghanaian capital of Accra, he won the country's national French-language competition twice, at two different levels, in 1968 and 1970.

Studied in France and the United States

Those awards helped Mensah win a French government fellowship in 1974 for studies in chemical engineering at Montpellier University in France. He received a Ph.D. there in 1978. Equally fluent in English, he had already completed a program at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a Certificate in Modeling of Chemical Processes in 1977. Settling in the United States, Mensah took a job at Air Products and Chemicals in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from 1980 to 1983.

Mensah's jobs in the 1980s were well suited to his strengths in basic research. From 1983 to 1986 he worked for Corning Glass Works in its fiber optics research division in Sullivan Park, New York. There he devised a new and faster method of accomplishing a fiber optics manufacturing procedure, the draw and coating process, that brought him four patents. In 1986 he joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in Georgia, part of a group of facilities that had long been one of the leading research enterprises in the United States. His work there centered on fiber optic reels that could be used at supersonic speeds in the U.S. military's guided missile program. Mensah realized several more patents from his work in the field of missile technology.

Fiber optics, the transmission of light through materials configured as cables, was a key technology of the 1980s and 1990s, underlying many of the revolutions in communications and computer technology that led to the rise of personal computing and the Internet. In 1987 Mensah edited Fiber Optics Engineering: Processing and Applications, a collection of cutting-edge articles detailing the latest research in the field. The second collection of articles Mensah edited, Superconductor Engineering (1992), also pertained to a hot scientific area; superconductors are materials that exhibit no resistance to electricity when placed in extreme temperature environments. "The application of superconductivity in modern society can revolutionize everything from high-speed computing to magnetically levitated high-speed trains," Mensah wrote in his introduction to the book.

Pioneered Technology Applied During Gulf War

Mensah's fiber optics innovations played a role in the successful use of new missile technology that helped the United States to a quick victory in the 1991 Gulf War. He continued to add to his professional reputation as the first African American to become the national chairman of the Materials and Engineering Sciences Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and as a member of an MIT advisory board. He was also a founding member of the AIChE's Emerging Technologies area. With these impressive credentials, Mensah had no problem finding investors when he moved to set up a company of his own, Supercond Technologies of Norcross, Georgia, in 1992.

The company had discussions with Lockheed, an aircraft manufacturer, about supplying materials for the company's new F-22 fighter bomber. But Mensah aimed at non-defense products as well. As U.S. defense spending dropped following the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, a host of companies, including Supercond, vied for opportunities to apply military technology to civilian enterprises, with what they hoped would be lucrative results. The company promoted an extra-strong composite material it had developed, hoping to interest manufacturers of such items as stadium seats and waste containers. "I think that many companies, even small ones, should be able to come up with dual-purpose ideas that served a defense need but have a market elsewhere," Mensah told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

The approaching 1996 Atlanta Olympics helped get Supercond off to a good start. The company partnered with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to try to develop "smart" materials for roadway design that would allow traffic monitoring during the Games, and Mensah also hoped to use fiber-optic technology to develop new video devices that could be used in the massive Olympic logistics enterprise. "Lots of ideas are floating about out there, but what I found impressive about Supercond was that it already has assembled seed capital and is now at work on a sequence of products to provide working capital," commented Atlanta Journal and Constitution writer Ernest Holsendolph.

Featured in Traveling Exhibitions

Mensah won several public honors for his work. He was featured in a traveling exhibit showcasing the accomplishments of 100 black scientists and engineers, as well as in an internationally exhibited display called Black Inventors. Black-oriented websites began to mention the African-born black scientist who had helped the United States win the Gulf War. By the early 2000s, however, financial troubles had driven Supercond from business.

At a Glance …

Born 1950 in Kumasi, Ghana. Education: University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, undergraduate degree, 1974; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Certificate in Modeling of Chemical Processes, 1977; University of Montpellier, France, PhD, 1978.

Career: Air Products and Chemicals, Allentown, PA, engineer, 1980-83; Corning Glass Works, Sullivan Park, NY, engineer, 1983-86; AT&T Bell Laboratories, Atlanta, engineer, 1986-early 1990s; Supercond Technology, Norcross, GA, founder and president; Georgia Aerospace Systems Manufacturing, Atlanta, GA, president, early 2000s–.

Awards: Featured in 100 Black Achievers in Science and Technology and Black Inventors traveling exhibits.

Memberships: American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Mensah bounced back as president of a new company, Georgia Aerospace Systems Manufacturing, which was headquartered in Atlanta. Georgia Aerospace announced plans to purchase a vacant building in Warner Robins, Georgia, and to hire 200 people trained in cooperation with local educational institutions. By late 2003, however, the deal had not yet been completed, and Georgia Aerospace had missed a deadline for the use of local bond money in financing the project. As of 2004, Mensah was listed as a contributor to the Robins Air Force Base 21st Century Partnership fund, and Georgia Aerospace was continuing to solicit clients as U.S. defense spending once again ramped up. It is yet to be seen whether Mensah will manage to place himself with a company capable of utilizing his ample talents in science and engineering.

Selected writings

(Editor, with Pundi L. Narasimham) Fiber Optics Engineering: Processing and Applications, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 1987.

(Editor) Superconductor Engineering, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 1992.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 7, 1992, p. F1; February 16, 1994, p. F1.

Macon Telegraph, April 16, 2002; July 11, 2002; September 13, 2003, Houston/Peach ed., p. A1.

On-line

"ORNL Joins Supercond to Develop a Traffic Monitoring System for 1996 Olympics," Oak Ridge National Laboratory Press Release, http://www.ornl.gov/press_releases/get_press_release.cfm?ReleaseNumber=olympics (October 10, 2004).

"Thomas Mensah," GhanaWeb, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/people/pop-up.php?ID=165 (October 10, 2004).

—James M. Manheim

User Comments

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about 6 years ago

Dr you have done well for all your achievements so kindly turn back to ghana kumasi precise to enable us to get our benefit from you regard to our small scale industry (suame magazine)

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over 10 years ago

Supercond Technology was brought under Georgia Aerospace Systems the parent corporation as the research arm for new materials like Nano structures. The entity did not fold but was merely absorbed under the parent company with Dr. Thomas Mensah as President and CEO.

Under Georgia Aerospace , supercond researchers are working at the leading edge of Nano Technology while benefiting from the manufacturing expertise of the parent company. Lab results are transfered faster to industrial and commercial applications faster. Georgia Aerospace is doing well,

as described in Ebony Magazine october 2006 edition. The company has several contracts in the defense space and is developing technology for homeland security. Dr. Mensah's entrepreneurial effort has been very successful. He is also diversifying into other areas, including Success Park, his answer to black disney world.

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almost 7 years ago

My name is Nana Osei, I am the younger brother of Dr. Thomas Mensah and responsible for all communications to him. I can be reached at nanasei@yahoo,com or by telephone at 678 499 1030. Dr. Mensah has set up a business downtown Kumasi that his extended family manages including an Internet Cafe. He also sends monthly remittance to us that help us take care of our family including our mother and step sister Achaa Boahene. He has been generous for several years to us and continue to do so till today. Other step cousins continue to seek help from him and contiune to support us as well as support other Churches in Ghana especially those that take care of Orphans. We are grateful for his support all these years.

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almost 7 years ago

I am in charge of all correspondence regarding Dr. Mensah in Ghana and his extended family. I am his junior brother and our entire family is grateful for what he has done over several years and continue to do for us. Because of his generosity. Through his help, We have been supporting a lot of families in Ghana, including Achaa Boahene and others who receive remittance monthly as well as Churches in Ghana particulary those known to have Orphanage programs.

Call me if you have any questions.

Tel 678 499 1030.

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almost 7 years ago

i want to talk with Dr. Thomas Mensah on phone co's his Mother is alive so she need help from her Son. l know his family in kumasi mother side.So pleas help me to talk with him,his sister too i know her, they are facing problem here in Ghana.
Thanx

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over 10 years ago

Dr. Mensah is the winner of the Golden Torch Award Distinguished Engineer 2007.

He will accept this award at the annual meeting of Society of Black Engineers, NSBE in Columbus Ohio in March 2007.



This is the highest award given to an individual by NSBE. The meeting is attended by 60,000 engineers and corporations.

www.nsbe.org.

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almost 2 years ago

Owusu mensah, you were a year my junior at Adisadel college. All santaclusians are extremely proud of you. Keep it up old boy.

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over 5 years ago

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over 5 years ago

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over 5 years ago

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over 5 years ago

Doc, Kudos. That is an impressive carrier, and thanks for the opportunity that you had to unearth that huge potential out there. There are several of Dr Mensah out there whose potentials have been shadowed by circumstances and the environment. Ayekooo Doc.

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almost 6 years ago

i really like this man because one he is an African and then also from my own country as well as my own city. looking at his profile and the things he has achieved as person i really admire it most and wishing that he will one day come to his country Ghana to do something with his knowledge and skills he has acquired in life. is my prayer that God in His own wisdom will increase him to be able to do more as the world expect of him.my greatest acknowledgment to him for such awards he has acquire to himself.is so marvelous and he should keep on winning.

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almost 6 years ago

I would like to congratulate Dr Mensah on his great achievements. I am happy that he started his career in Ghana. What it means that great men could still be produced in our Universities. Dr Thomas Mensah should still find a way to help the beloved country; in spite of all the challenges that may be involved. He could do it through a third party if need be.

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about 6 years ago

Sir Dr. Thomas Mensah, ayekoo!!!
I am amazed about your achievements which I just read on-line. God has really blessed the black man's mind. The black man possess so much talent, yet little is used up due to too much attention to disease and poverty, mostly arising out of wars and illiteracy.
May God bless you with more years on earth to uncover what the Creator has covered.

Amos,
Kumasi, Ghana

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about 6 years ago

Dr you have done well for all your achievements so kindly turn back to ghana kumasi precise to enable us to get our benefit from you regard to our small scale industry (suame magazine)

Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

Dr you have done well for all your achievements so kindly turn back to ghana kumasi precise to enable us to get our benefit from you regard to our small scale industry (suame magazine)

Vote down Vote up

almost 7 years ago

Good and an impressive Biography by LL STANDARDS.My only beef is whether this fine scholar did not attend any Kindergarten, primary and Secondary school before the KNUST.At least, we deserve to know.

If he attended the Owasses and the Prempehs, we would b proud of ourselves.On the extreme end, if it was the Toases and the Atwimamans, then it would tell those guys out there that as the good book says, your beginning has no effect on your end.What a motivation that one would have been.



Regards.

Fred.