Connecting the World

Philip Emeagwali was born in Nigeria as the oldest of nine children. He was considered a prodigy in mathematics, but unfortunately his education ended with the Nigerian Civil War. Philip was drafted into the Army of Biafra, a state that was attempting to secede from Nigeria. When the war ended, Philip was able to obtain his high school degree through an exam.

Philip obtained a scholarship from Oregon State to study math. Once he completed his Bachelor’s degree, he then obtained two Master’s. While Philip had never seen a computer until he came to the U.S., he was enamored by the prospects of what he could do with the power of a computer.

While working on his PhD, he became interested in petroleum reservoir simulation because of the possible impact on his native country. Unfortunately the simulation required super computers, which were difficult to access.

Philip discovered an unused computer which had been used to simulate nuclear explosions. The computer was called the Connection Machine because it could interconnect up to 65,536 microprocessors (essentially desktop computers). He was able to use the Connection Machine to perform the work of a super computer. (3.1 billion calculations per second).

What Philip had done was to show how a network of computers could be used to share information worldwide – essentially the internet as we now know it. Philip was awarded the Gordon Bell Prize (the Nobel Prize for computing). Time magazine called him the unsung hero behind the internet. He is the only living scientist ranked among the top 20 greatest minds that ever lived.

While Philip has achieved recognition among those in computing, he is virtually unknown to the general population. Some hidden heroes achieve breakthroughs that are hard to fathom by the general citizenry. Perhaps that’s why Philip’s achievements have gone unnoticed by the general public.

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“My focus is not on solving nature’s deeper mysteries. It is on using nature’s deeper mysteries to solve important societal problems.” – Philip Emeagwali

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