Philip Emeagwali is a Nigerian computer scientist. He has been living in the United States for many years. He won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize ($1,000) for price-performance in high-performance computing applications, in an oil reservoir modeling calculation using a novel mathematical formulation and implementation.
Emeagwali was born in Akure, Nigeria on 23 August 1954. His early schooling was suspended in 1967 as a result of the Nigerian Civil War. At 13 years, he served in the Biafran army. After the war he completed high-school equivalence through self-study.
He traveled to the United States to study under a scholarship following completion of a correspondence course at the University of London. He received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Oregon State University in 1977. He later moved to Washington DC, receiving in 1986 a master's degree from George Washington University in ocean and marine engineering, and a second master's in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland. Next magazine suggested that Emeagwali claimed to have further degrees. During this time, he worked as a civil engineer at the Bureau of Land Reclamation in Wyoming.
Court case and the denial of degree
Emeagwali studied for a Ph.D. degree from the University of Michigan from 1987 through 1991. His thesis was not accepted by a committee of internal and external examiners and thus he was not awarded the degree. Emeagwali filed a court challenge, stating that the decision was a violation of 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.
Emeagwali received the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize for an application of the CM-2 massively-parallel computer. The application used computational fluid dynamics for oil-reservoir modeling. He received a prize in "price/performance" category, with a performance figure of about 400 Mflops/$1M. The winner in the "performance" category, was also the winner of the Price/performance category, but unable to receive two prizes. Mobil Research and Thinking Machines, used the CM-2 for seismic data processing and achieved the higher ratio of 500 Mflops/$1M. The judges decided on one award per entry. His method involved each microprocessor communicating with six neighbours.
Emeagwali has stirred up quite a lot of controversy over his claimed achievements. Emeagwali was voted the "35th-greatest African (and greatest African scientist) of all time" in a survey by New African magazine.
His achievements were quoted in a speech by Bill Clinton as an example of what Nigerians could achieve when given the opportunity. He is also a frequent feature of Black History Month articles in the popular press.
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