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Mon, 08.23.1954

Dr. Phillip Emeagwali born

Philip Emeagwali

Philip Emeagwali was born on this date 1954. He is a Black Nigerian computer scientist and internet pioneer.

He was raised in the town of Onitsha in Southeastern Nigeria. Called "Calculus" by his schoolmates, Emeagwali mastered the subject at age 14, and could out-calculate his instructors.  He had to drop out of school because his family could not afford to send all eight children, but he continued studying on his own and got a general certificate of education from the University of London.

At the age of 17, he received a full scholarship to Oregon State University where he majored in math.  After graduation, he attended George Washington University and received two M.A.s, one in civil engineering and the other in marine engineering, and a Master's in mathematics from the University of Maryland.  He later earned his doctorate from the University of Michigan in civil engineering (scientific computing).

During his academic years, in 1974, Emeagwali read a 1922 science fiction article on how to use 64,000 mathematicians to forecast the weather for the whole Earth. Inspired by that article, he worked out a theoretical scheme for using 64,000 far-flung processors to be evenly distributed around the Earth, to forecast the weather. He called it a HyperBall international network of computers. Today, an international network of computers is called the Internet.

Dr. Emeagwali's greatest achievement was his work on The Connection Machine. This instrument used 65,000 computers linked in parallel to form the (then) fastest computer on Earth. This computer can perform 3.1 billion calculations per second. This is faster than the theoretical top speed of the Cray Supercomputer.

Though he did not "invent" The Connection Machine, his work on it won Emeagwali the Gordon Bell Prize of 1989. Though he received the prize, there is no evidence that his work was ever accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, nor that it had any other lasting impact on the field of high-performance computing.

Apple Computer has used his multiprocessing technology to manufacture its dual-processor Power Mac G4, which had a peak speed of 3.1 billion calculations per second. IBM used it to manufacture its $134.4 million supercomputer, which had a peak speed of 3.1 trillion calculations per second. IBM has manufactured a 65,000-processor supercomputer, which will have a peak speed of 1,000 trillion calculations per second, and every supercomputer manufacturer will incorporate thousands of processors in their supercomputers.

Another measure of his influence is that over a million students have written biographical essays on him, and thousands wrote to thank him for inspiring them.

President Bill Clinton called him a powerful role model for young people and used the phrase "another Emeagwali" to describe children with the potential to become computer geniuses. Emeagwali considers himself to be "a Black scientist with a social responsibility to communicate science to the Black Diaspora." He has a dual sensibility of being deeply rooted in science while using it as a tool to remind his people in the Diaspora of where they have been and who they are. He also describes his work as a "public intellectual.” He uses his mathematical and computer expertise to develop methods for extracting more petroleum from oil fields.

During his career, Emeagwali has received many awards and honors.  These include the Computer Scientist of the Year Award of the National Technical Association (1993), Distinguished Scientist Award of the World Bank (1998), Best Scientist in Africa Award of the Pan African Broadcasting, Heritage and Achievement Awards (2001), and Gallery of Prominent Refugees of the United Nations (2001). He was profiled in the book "Making It in America" as one of "400 models of eminent Americans," and in "Who's Who in 20th Century America." In a televised speech, President Bill Clinton described Emeagwali as “one of the great minds of the Information Age.”

Academically, Emeagwali studied for a Ph.D. degree from the University of Michigan from 1987 through 1991. His thesis was not accepted and he was not awarded the degree. Emeagwali filed a court challenge, claiming that the school decision violated his civil rights and that the university had discriminated against him in several ways because of his race. The court challenge was dismissed, as was an appeal to the Michigan state Court of Appeals.

His wife, Dale, was born in Baltimore, was educated at Georgetown University School of Medicine, conducted research at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Michigan, and taught at the University of Minnesota. In 1996, she won the Scientist of the Year Award of the National Technical Association for her cancer research. They live near Washington, D.C. with their 11-year-old son.

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Dr. Phillip Emeagwali

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