Philip Emeagwali, a Supercomputer Pioneer -African scientist

Philip Emeagwali is a supercomputer pioneer and scientist we must continue to celebrate and appreciate for his innovative work in various technology fields. He is one person I'll like to meet (we all should). -Kevin Onuma


By Kevin Onuma

InformAfrica – Dr. Philip Emeagwali is a supercomputer pioneer, a mathematician, scientist, and engineer. Dr. Emeagwali is not only one of Africa’s greatest inventors; he is one of the greatest pioneer of all time.

Philip Emeagwali, a Supercomputer Pioneer -African scientist, African inventor
Philip Emeagwali, (born in 1954) is an Igbo Nigerian-born engineer and computer scientist/geologist, first entered the limelight in 1989 when he won the prestigious Gordon Bell Prize for his work with massively parallel computers. He programmed the Connection Machine to compute a world record 3.1 billion calculations per second using 65,536 processors to simulate oil reservoirs.

Philip Emeagwali, an African inventor; have been acclaimed in many highly recognized fields including Information Technology (IT), petroleum industry, science, among others. His study of nature, specifically bees, helped him create the formula which combined millions of computer processors to perform calculations at a super speed like never done before.

Many international agencies, world leaders, and big media houses regard Dr. Philip Emeagwali as one of Africa’s greatest pioneer. A publication on Famous Black Inventors acclaimed  Dr. Philip Emeagwali as “Inventor of the World’s Fastest Computer”:

Emeagwali saw an inherent efficiency in the way bees construct and work with honeycomb and determined computers that emulate this process could be the most efficient and powerful. In 1989, emulating the bees’ honeycomb construction, Emeagwali used 65,000 processors to invent the world’s fastest computer, which performs computations at 3.1 billion (Gigahertz, GHz)  calculations per second. The higher the GHz, the faster the computer speed.

Dr. Philip Emeagwali’s resume is loaded with many other such feats, including ways of making oil fields more productive – which has resulted in the United States saving hundreds of millions of dollars each year. As one of the most famous African-American inventors of the 20th century, Dr. Emeagwali also has won the Gordon Bell Prize – the Nobel Prize for computation. His computers are currently being used to forecast the weather and to predict the likelihood and effects of future global warming. [1]

Philip Emeagwali - Among 100 Greatest Africans, New African Magazine
Philip Emeagwali is among 100 Greatest Africans, New African Magazine.

Dr. Philip Emeagwali was voted the 35th greatest African of all time in a survey for New African magazine, it was announced on August 26, 2004. Emeagwali also ranked as the greatest African scientist ever:

Emeagwali’s discovery of a formula that enables supercomputers powered by 65,000 electronic brains called “processors” to perform the world’s fastest calculations inspired the reinvention of supercomputers.

Emeagwali reformulated Newton’s Second Law of Motion as 18 equations and algorithms; then as 24 million algebraic equations; and finally he programmed and executed those equations on 65,000 processors (computer brains) at a speed of 3.1 billion (Gigahertz, GHz) calculations per second.

Emeagwali’s 65,000 processors, 24 million equations and 3.1 billion calculations were three world records that garnered international headlines.[2]

Philip Emeagwali, a Supercomputer Pioneer -African scientist

An interview by Susan Henderson for the book African-American Inventors, explains Philip Emeagwali achievements as follows:

  • Invented methods and procedures for making computers faster and more powerful. These methods enabled me to perform the world’s fastest computation of 3.1 billion calculations per second in 1989 and solve the largest weather forecasting equations with 128 million points in 1990.
  • Programmed a computer with 65,000 processors to outperform the fastest supercomputer and thereby proving that it is best to use many processors in designing supercomputers. As a result, the technology of supercomputers now use hundreds or thousands of processor to achieve their computational speed.
  • Successfully implemented the first petroleum reservoir model on a massively parallel computer in 1989. As a result, one in 10 parallel supercomputers is used to find and recover additional oil and gas.
  • Solved one of America’s 20 Grand Challenges — accurately computing how oil flows underground and thereby alerting the petroleum industry that massively parallel computers can be used to recover more oil. Only 30 percent of the oil in a reservoir can be recovered and this discovery will enable oil companies to recover more oil.
  • Invented a new approach of designing supercomputers by observing and emulating patterns in nature.
  • Invented hyperball computer networks.
  • Formulated new mathematical (partial differential) equations for slowly moving liquids and gases such as the flow within the Earth’s interior.
  • Set world record for an unprecedented parallel computer speedup of 65536 in 1990. This experiment, involving 65536 physically linked computer processors demonstrated that the speed of supercomputers can be increased a million times.
  • The experiment was done before the term scalability replaced “computer speedup” as an industry buzzword. In 1990, the computer industry did not understand the implications of my experiments and scalable systems. Today, scalability is cool and every vendor promises that their system is scalable.

So, what does a speedup of 65536 mean to a customer conducting business on the Internet or networked computer? It means that:

  1. Computers can operate continuously without any down time.
  2. Commercial transactions are safe from hackers.
  3. Smaller applications can to be ported to bigger computers without the additional expense of rewriting the original software. This is a form of investment protection.
  4. Response time can remain constant at complex high-volume websites such as the Olympic Games, airline reservation computers, and Internet search engines.

YouTube Videos About Philip Emeagwali

In the YouTube video below, former US President Bill Clinton called Philip Emeagwali one of the great men of the information age.

Another video published by BBC World Wide  features Supercomputer scientist Philip Emeagwali speaking about how high speed data cables can connect Africa. See video below:

An interesting video I discovered on YouTube states that: Over the past 15 years, many U.S. and Canadian college campuses have asked famed pioneer of the Supercomputer and Internet, Philip Emeagwali, to speak on Africa Night, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and during Black History Month. Below is the video:

Philip Emeagwali Invented a Hyperball Computer

Philip Emeagwali Supercomputer Pioneer
Philip Emeagwali solved one of America’s 20 Grand Challenges by accurately computing how oil flows underground and thereby alerting the petroleum industry that massively parallel computers can be used to recover more oil.

In an interview published on (Part 2: Winning the Gorden Bell Prize for Supercomputers).  Philip Emeagwali was asked: You invented the hyperball nature-inspired computer network, can you describe it for us?

I observed that many problems that occur in nature possess a spherical structure. For example, the Earth is spherical and, for this reason, forecasting global warming is best done on a hyperball computer which has numerous processing nodes interconnected in a spherical-structure. This was what motivated me to invent the hyperball computer. –Philip Emeagwali [3]

Those not in the IT field may wonder what GHz stand for or represent. GHZ is short for Gigahertz, which means a billion cycles or calculations per second. Many of today’s processors operate at top speeds of about 3GHz (3 billion cycles per second). Each cycle can process one calculation, math, or command.

Mind you that a personal computer (PC, Desktop, or Laptop) is not the same as a supercomputer. A supercomputer is currently the fastest type of computer (computer system) in the world, among others.

What Is Supercomputer?

Webopedia describes Supercomputers as the fastest type of computer.

The fastest type of computer. Supercomputers are very expensive and are employed for specialized applications that require immense amounts of mathematical calculations. For example, weather forecasting requires a supercomputer. Other uses of supercomputers include animated graphics, fluid dynamic calculations, nuclear energy research, and petroleum exploration.“[4]

As at now the fastest supercomputer that I heard of is the Fujitsu “K” Supercomputer, and is interconnected to about 88,128 CPUs (Processors).

ExtremeTech reports that the Fujitsu “K” supercomputer, the world’s fastest computer, hit 10 petaflops late last year, breaking its own speed record. For perspective, that means that K is capable of 10 quadrillion calculations a second.

The “K” Supercomputer is going to be in full practical operation by 2012 helping the Japanese government predict natural disasters, such as the earthquake and resultant tsunami at the beginning of the year, and aiding researchers in finding cures for diseases. [5]

Computer scientists and mathematicians are continually exploring and expanding the speed of computers as we journey through the future. This is good in the sense that it could help solve many of the world’s problem or needs – faster and more effectively.

Kevin Onuma Concludes

Young Africans – the Information Technology (IT) and scientific field is a field we must join the rest of the world to explore and reinvent. This, I believe starts from our level of observation to discovery, experimenting, understanding, and documenting.  Africa is naturally blessed with young intellectual scientists, engineers, mathematicians, researchers, and so forth – one major issue is allowing worldly things hinder, corrupt, or limit our imaginations, thoughts, and reasoning. Religion is a good example of a worldly thing than can corrupt, hinder, or limit our level of reasoning.

When I speak of young intellectual Africans, I mean intellect in a sense that an African uses his or her intelligence (thoughts and reasoning), critical or analytical reasoning in such a manner that they are more likely to discover solutions to certain problems than the average person. This also means that you don’t allow religious beliefs or other worldly propaganda manipulate your intellectual ability.

Observe. Discover. Experiment. Understand. Life is scientific.

This article is filed under: Africa Report



[1] Dr. Philip Emeagwali: Inventor of the World’s Fastest ComputerFamous Black Inventors

[2] 100 greatest Africans of All timeNew African Magazine

[3] Interview with Philip EmeagwaliAbout

[4] What is supercomputerWebopedia

[5] World’s fastest supercomputerExtremeTech

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