Motivational Personality of the Week – PHILIP CHUKWURA EMEAGWALI


Philip Chukwura Emeagwali (PCE) was born on 23rd 1954 in Akure to Aghata and James Emeagwali.  He is the oldest in a family of nine children. He is considered a genius because of his skills as a math student.

His father spent a significant amount of time nurturing his son’s education. By the time Emeagwali reached high school, his skills with numbers had earned him the nickname “Calculus.”

Philip was enlisted forcefully at a tender age into the Biafra Army, after his family fled from Akure to the eastern part of the country, which made it difficult for him to continue his education.

At the end of the war, he attended a school in Onitsha, where he had to walk two hours to and from school each day. Unfortunately, he had to drop out due to financial problems.

Despite this, he continued to study privately and later with the aid of a scholarship, he travelled to London and then to the United States, amidst several hassles and problems, ranging from passport issuance and other African related discriminations. 

Philip Emeagwali later moved to the United states and attended the Oregon State University, where upon arrival he used a telephone, visited a library and saw a computer for the first time.

He earned his degree in mathematics in 1977 and later attended George Washington University to earn a Master’s degree in Ocean and Marine Engineering. He also holds a second Master’s from the University of Maryland in applied mathematics.

While still abroad, he worked as a civil engineer at the Bureau of Land Reclamation in Wyoming.

While attending the University of Michigan on a doctoral fellowship in the 1980s, PCE began work on a project to use computers to help identify untapped underground oil reservoirs.  

He initially worked on the oil discovery problem using a supercomputer. However, he decided it was more efficient to use thousands of widely distributed microprocessors to do his calculations instead of tying up eight expensive supercomputers.  He discovered an unused computer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory formerly used to simulate nuclear explosions.

Mr. Emeagwali began hooking up over 60,000 microprocessors. Ultimately, the Connection Machine, programmed remotely from Emeagwali’s apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, ran more than 3.1 billion calculations per second and correctly identified the amount of oil in a simulated reservoir. The computing speed was faster than that achieved by a Cray supercomputer.

Describing his inspiration for the breakthrough, Philip Emeagwali said that he remembered observing bees in nature. He saw their way of working together and communicating with each other was inherently more efficient than trying to accomplish tasks separately. He wanted to make computers emulate the construction and operation of a beehive’s honeycomb.

PCE demonstrated a practical and inexpensive way to allow computers to speak with each other and collaborate all around the world.  His findings also changed the way, Geologist search for and recover crude oil and natural gas.

The key to his achievement was programming each microprocessor to talk with six other neighboring microprocessors at the same time.  The discovery ultimately helped lead toward the development of the internet.

Philip’s work earned him the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers’ Gordon Bell Prize in 1989, considered the “Nobel Prize” of computing.  

He continues to work on computing problems, including models to describe and predict the weather, and has earned more than one hundred honors for his breakthrough achievements.

Philip Emeagwali is one of the most prominent African-American inventors of the 20th century and is an ‘unsung hero’.

He has published several books and articles of his works and findings and is known as an authority in the field of supercomputing.

He is married to Dale Brown and has a daughter, Ijeoma Emeagwali.

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