Joseph K. Kakande

Joseph Kakande

Marconi Society Director

Joseph Kakande, a brilliant engineering researcher who is about to receive his PhD from the University of Southampton, is one of three students worldwide to be honored by the prestigious Marconi Society. A native of Uganda, he was selected a Marconi Young Scholar for his cutting-edge work to make communications even faster using all-optical fibers.

As the leading organization devoted to recognizing and encouraging scientific contributions to communication sciences and the Internet, the Marconi Society annually honors young scholars who already are engaged in influential work and are likely to transform their fields in some significant way. All three of this year’s Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award recipients are completing their doctorates while making vital contributions to the world’s “need for speed” – our increasing imperative to be able to send and receive data as quickly and economically as possible.

Though intricate and often theoretical, their research aims to make communications faster and more efficient, giving people everyday benefits – from better video-on-demand service to improved MRI scans that yield medical images in a quicker and thus more comfortable way.

Kakande’s work has focused on all-optical signal processing, to counter the threat that the exponential growth in the demand for high-capacity optical communications could otherwise be thwarted by the speed and power bottlenecks experienced in current optical-to-electrical-to-optical conversion.

“Electronics is really great for processing,” he noted, “but it can only work so fast.” Newer technology aims to replicate the functionality of electronic transistors, but by using optical components – flexible pure glass fibers roughly the size of a human hair that are capable of transferring information from one end to the other over longer distances. The advantage is speed: optical techniques easily process more than 10 billion bits a second – about 10 times faster than the fastest conventional computer. Kakande’s research aims to develop novel methods for processing high spectral efficiency phase encoded optical signals at ultra-high baud rates, using nonlinear fiber optic technologies. In essence, that means using light to control optical signals on ultra-fast time scales.

“As a child, I had a fascination with electronics and I always wanted to work at Intel,” said Kakande. Named Best Student at National Level in Uganda, where he was a student at St. Mary’s College Kisubi, he attained first class honors in electronic engineering from the University of Hull, and is to receive his PhD in optoelectronic engineering from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

His research has been published in several top journals including the Nature group, and has led to three patent filings, with more in the pipeline. He would like to work for a large corporation in its research and development department.

Kakande has a particular interest in exploring how optical communications – which recently have revolutionized technology in the developed world – can be deployed in the Third World to empower its most deprived people. As his university co-supervisor, Optoelectronics Research Centre Deputy Director David Richardson noted, “I think he’s got all the capabilities to become a real research superstar.”

The Marconi Young Scholar Awards are named in honor of Baran, a Marconi Fellow famous for helping devise the technical inner-workings of the Arpanet, the government-sponsored precursor to the Internet. Nonetheless, Baran always declined to be called the inventor of the Internet, instead likening it to a vast cathedral built by countless people continually adding their own stones to reshape its image.

This marks the fourth year that Young Scholars Awards have been granted by the Marconi Society, which is best known for its annual $100,000 Marconi Award and Fellowship given to living scientists whose scope of work and influence emulate the principle of “creativity in service to humanity.” As Marconi Society Chairman Emeritus Robert Lucky noted, the scholars selection committee “looks for candidates who show the potential to win the Marconi Prize — the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in communications science — at some point in the future. As a point of reference, Marconi Fellows have been at the forefront of every modern advance in telecommunications and the Internet.”

The Young Scholar Awards include a financial stipend and an invitation and travel funds to attend the annual Marconi Award Dinner, to be held in September in San Diego.