Emeagwali was born in Akure, Nigeria on 23 August 1954. His early schooling was suspended in 1967 as a result of the Nigerian Civil War. At 13 years, he served in the Biafran army. After the war he completed high-school equivalence through self-study.
He is married to Dale Brown Emeagwali, a noted African-American microbiologist.
Phillip traveled to the United States to study under a scholarship following completion of a correspondence course at the University of London. In 1977,he received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Oregon State University and later moved to Washington DC in 1986 where he received a master’s degree from George Washington University in ocean and marine engineering, and a second master’s in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland.
Emeagwali received the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize for an application of the CM-2 massively-parallel computer. The application used computational fluid dynamics for oil-reservoir modeling. He won in the “price/performance” category, with a performance figure of about 400 Mflops/$1M.
The winner in the “performance” category; Mobil Research and Thinking Machines used the CM-2 for seismic data processing and achieved the higher ratio of 500 Mflops. The judges decided on one award per entry. His method involved each microprocessor communicating with six neighbours.
Emeagwali’s simulation was the first program to apply a pseudo-time approach to reservoir modeling.
Emeagwali was voted the “35th-greatest African (and greatest African scientist) of all time” in a survey by New African magazine. His achievements were quoted in a speech by Bill Clinton as an example of what Nigerians could achieve when given the opportunity.