Philip Emeagwali Biography: The Father of Modern Day Internet

Profile of Philip Emeagwali

Philip Emeagwali was born into a modest family in Akure, Ondo state, Nigeria in 1954. He was born a gifted child. He had affinity for mathematics but could not continue school and had to drop out because his family, who had become war refugees could no longer afford to pay his school fees.

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Luck smiled on him later in life and as a young man, he earned a general education certificate at the University of London and other degrees at George Washington University and the University of Maryland, as well as a doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan, all in the United States.

While at the University of Michigan, he participated in the scientific debate on how to simulate the detection of oil reservoirs using a supercomputer. Having grown up in an oil producing country like Nigeria and having an understanding of how oil is drilled, Philip Emeagwali decided to use this problem as the subject of his doctoral dissertation.

Instead of using eight expensive supercomputers, Emeagwali decided he would employ thousands of microprocessors to do the computation. This idea of his was gotten from a science fiction story about weather prediction.

Having embarked on his work, the only step left was to find eight machines and interconnect them. That it was done in the 80s was a feat that gave him legendary status in the internet world. Through research, he found a machine called the Connection Machine at the Los Alamos National Laboratory which had been unused after scientists gave up on figuring out how to make it simulate nuclear explosions.

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The Connection Machine was designed to run 65,536 interconnected microprocessors.

Emeagwali applied for permission to use the machine in 1987 and was granted permission indeed,and remotely, from his Ann Arbor, Michigan location, he set his parameters and ran his programme.

Apart from correctly computing the amount of oil in the simulated reservoir, the machine was able to perform 3.1 billion calculations per second, impressive indeed!

The beauty of the discovery was that Emeagwali had programmed each of the microprocessors to “talk” to six neighbouring microprocessors at the same time. The success of the record-breaking experiment meant that there was now a practical, inexpensive to use machines to communicate to each other the world over. This network of interconnected computers communicating with each other the world over is what is known as the world wide web or the internet and even if it was in place before this groundbreaking discovery, Emeagwali had helped reinvent it and given it a glorious status, thus he became in the process, the father of modern-day Internet.

This discovery earned him the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers’ Gordon Bell prize in 1989. He has won more than 100 prizes for his work and his microprocessor has been used by Apple Inc. in developing their Power Mac G4 computer model.

Emeagwali resides in Washington with his wife and son.

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