Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

Inventor, scientist pays visit to e-mail pal in Willingboro

WILLINGBORO — The township school district is continually striving to make its buildings high-tech centers of learning, and yesterday the effort increased in speed 3.1 billion times.

Philip Emeagwali, an award-winning scientist and the inventor of a supercomputer that could do 3.1 billion computations each second, visited Garfield Park East Elementary School and four other district buildings as part of Black History Month.

"I've always wanted to visit schools because I have a lot of e-mail from students," Emeagwali said before going into a student assembly of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. "(But) that's not the same as face to face."

Philip Emeagwali and Robert Matthews (20890 bytes)

Award-winning scientist Philip Emeagwali (left) finally met face to face with sixth graders at the Garfield Park School in Willingboro.

"I realize they find there's no substitute meeting you face to face," he said.

Emeagwali, 44, was born into a large family in Akure, Nigeria. At the age of 12, warfare forced the future scientist to drop out of school and live in a Biafran refugee camp for three years. Emeagwali's father insisted he continue studying, and challenged him with hundreds of math problems every day.

Emeagwali earned his high school equivalency degree from the University of London and 25 years ago moved to the United States to obtain advanced degrees in mathematics, scientific computing and civil, coastal, ocean and marine engineering.

In 1989, he won the Gordon Bell Prize — the equivalent of the Nobel prize in the computer world — for developing a computer that could do 3.1 billion computations each second. The super machine had the same power as 65,000 personal computers, he said.

About five years ago, the Baltimore, Md.-resident, who has been responsible for 41 inventions, developed an educational Internet site aimed at children researching computers. About 1,000 students visit his web site — — each day.

At the end of January, Garfield Park East sixth-grader Robert Matthews Jr. happened upon the site while doing research for a Black History Month.

"I e-mailed him when I was looking for someone to do a report on for Black History Month," recalled Robert, 12. "I typed in African-American scientist and it directed me to his web site. I thought he was someone who would be a good role model for the kids and I."

Robert's mother didn't think the scientist would return the message, but the pair began to correspond and Emeagwali agreed to visit Willingboro yesterday and today.

"The Internet has broken the barriers of space and time," Emeagwali said. "It gives a better meaning of a global community."

During the assembly, Emeagwali urged the children to write down their goals, spend three hours each night on homework, read aloud to themselves once a week, and not do drugs.

"Each and every one of you is a reflection of our future and you're our link to the future," he said. "What you do is very important to us."

Robert was impressed by the man who overcame many obstacles to become a success and a role model.

"He's a very nice person and he had a lot of accomplishments," Robert said.

Reported by Josh Bernstein in the February 26, 1999 issue of the Burlington County Times.

Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

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Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor