Famous Black Inventors

Dr. Philip Emeagwali

Inventor of the World's Fastest Computer

Dr. Philip Emeagwali

Dr. Philip Emeagwali, who has been called the "Bill Gates of Africa," was born in Nigeria in 1954. Like many African schoolchildren, he dropped out of school at age 14 because his father could not continue paying Emeagwali's school fees. However, his father continued teaching him at home, and everyday Emeagwali performed mental exercises such as solving 100 math problems in one hour. His father taught him until Philip "knew more than he did."

Growing up in a country torn by civil war, Emeagwali lived in a building crumbled by rocket shells. He believed his intellect was a way out of the line of fire. So he studied hard and eventually received a scholarship to Oregon State University when he was 17 where he obtained a BS in mathematics. He also earned three other degrees – a Ph.D. in Scientific computing from the University of Michigan and two Masters degrees from George Washington University.

The noted black inventor received acclaim based, at least in part, on his study of nature, specifically bees. 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 calculations per second.

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.