Making Strides in a Parallel Universe


Nature's Own
Numbers Man

strides in a

from hard

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Reported by Barry Morgan from Accra, Ghana (West Africa) for Upstream (January 27, 1997, Oslo, Norway)

OIL COMPANIES are now pouring money into massively parallel computers --- proof, says Emeagwali, that the technology has broken through initial scepticism.

His prize-winning work in 1989 enabled him to develop the first "pseudo-time" approach to reservoir modelling. It proved to the US establishment that "the use of only Dirichlet-type equations in the vicinity of petroleum production wells located near the boundary is better suited to avoid the coning problems caused by the high velocity of converging flows in the vicinity of wells".

The work goes to the heart of a debated that raged in the 1930s over equations governing porous media flow modelling, and which this doughty scientist now sees good reason to revive.

[Philip Emeagwali's Reservoir Equations]
Natural talent: Emeagwali says research and development at the big oil companies is conventional and rational "while my approach is multi-disciplinary, unorthodox, intuitive and nature-inspired"

Reservoir models using Darcy's 19th century equations can no longer be held valid near pumping wells with turbulent flow regimes, he claims. He also discovered the analogy between Darcy's equations and geostrophic equations used in weather forecasting, something his industry counterparts still find hard to accept.

Uprooting old models will, he says, be costly and difficult. "Reservoir models have taken hundreds of man years and tens of millions of dollars to construct and it will be impractical to discard. But they can be modified to incorporate the additional physics used by my new equations." He does not feel his ideas have been under-utilised by the industry and points out that his original goal was simply to demonstrate that massively parallel computers can be used to discover and recover additional oil and gas.

The next challenge, he says, will require a mix of technologies with faster computers that can perform one trillion calculations per second --- a feat, Emeagwali predicts, that will be achieved in less than two years.

Please send your comments to Philip Emeagwali at 443-850-0850 or