Solomon Assefa, Ethiopian-American, is a researcher with IBM working on a project that will enable electronic chips to communicate with pulses of light, instead of electrical signals. Indeed, computer chips currently have copper wires inside. What he is working on is a new way of making a photodetector. A photodetector is a very sensitive device that amplifies optical signals and then converts them into electrical signals that can be shuttled around in a microprocessor. This could give birth to computers that are more power efficient and up to 1,000 times faster thanks to optical communication based on nanophotonics.
The method used seems to be a cheap one for the integration of photodetectors with minimal changes to the standard process used for making transistors.
So far, it appears that Solomon Assefa can demonstrate the performance of his photodetector in the lab. Yet, the commercialization of a chip that will embed his innovation will greatly depend on the efficient integration of the rest of its elements. Indeed, making an integrated circuit requires hundreds of steps and dozens of lithographic masks. Lithographic masks being the stencils used to pattern features on a chip.
The example of Solomon Assefa and that of many other Africans who have migrated outside the African continent shows that Africans are capable of developing some of the most useful innovations on earth. This means training Africans in good schools African and giving them the opportunity to work for very competitive firms in Africa so as to unleash their potential.