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Top computing prize goes to a University of Michigan Ph.D. candidate

Reported by Judith Axler Turner for the June 27, 1990 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.


PHILIP EMEAGWALI, who took on an enormously difficult problem and, like most students working on Ph.D. dissertations, solved it alone, has won computation's top prize, captured in the past only by seasoned research teams.

Mr. Emeagwali, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering and scientific computing at the University of Michigan, was awarded the $1,000 Gordon Bell Prize from the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers for speeding up a supercomputer to solve an important problem.



Philip Emeagwali and his Gordon Bell Prize plaque

His program for the Connection Machine, a massively parallel computer, made it run at 3.1 billion calculations per second --- twice as fast as the speedup achieved by last year's winners, and 24 times as fast as the speedup achieved by the winners from the year before.

Mr. Emeagwali, who was the first to win using a Connection Machine, solved a serious problem in the petroleum industry. His program simulates the flow of oil in a petroleum reservoir and enables engineers to determine where best to place wells to capture as much of the trapped oil as possible. Today's technology enables recovery of about 30 per cent of that oil, Mr. Emeagwali says. If his program can squeeze out a few more percentage points, it will help decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil.

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Mr. Emeagwali, 35, was a mathematical whiz as a child in Nigeria, and since coming to the United States has earned three master's degrees. Although the Connection Machine, with more than 65,000 processors, is considered particularly difficult to use, Mr. wrote his program after working on the computer for only eight months.

Mr. Emeagwali hopes to continue his reseach and remain in academe after he gets his Ph.D. this summer.



By Judith Axler Turner for The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 27, 1990

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