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

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.

Making Strides in a Parallel Universe

Inspirations from Hard History

Click on emeagwali.com for more information.