I was accused of cheating in my mathematics entrance examination to Saint Georges Grammar School, Obiaruku and denied an admission.


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Philip Emeagwali
interviewed by Reuben Abati for The Nigerian Guardian.


Were there any special experiences during your childhood that influenced your choice of career?

My father believed that mathematics was an extremely important subject and invented a teaching method that he believed will make me a mathematics prodigy.

Each evening, he will place a clock in front of me and drill me on how to solve 100 mathematics problems within 60 minutes. After one year of daily mathematics drilling, I was solving 100 problems per hour. Because I had only 36 seconds to solve each problem, I could not write down all the intermediate calculations and I would mentally perform some calculations and write down the answers.

Because of the speed and accuracy with which I performed mathematical calculations I gained a reputation as a math wizard. Classmates accused me of using juju magical powers in my mathematics examinations.

In 1965, I was accused of cheating in my mathematics entrance examination to Saint Georges Grammar School, Obiaruku and denied an admission. The reason was that I finished the one hour examination in five minutes and scored 100 percent while the next highest score was 57 percent. The school did not believe that a ten-year old is capable of such a feat.

Also, to become a scientist requires years of financial and emotional hardships, particularly for black African scientists living in the United States. Living in a war refugee camp teaches you to be mentally and physically tough. In 1977, I was unemployed and homeless in Washington, D.C. The hunger that I experienced was comparable to that in Biafra. Because, I lived in a war refugee camp, seven years earlier, I drew upon that experience to survive.

My early aptitude in mathematics influenced my present career as a scientist that uses advanced mathematical methods and supercomputers to solve engineering problems. Growing up in Biafra taught me how to persevere through difficult times.


Related articles/websites

Emeagwali's Website

Making Strides in a Parallel Universe

Inspirations from Hard History

Letters to Emeagwali


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