Acoustical Society of America
Gold Medal Award - 1979

Richard Henry Bolt

THE ACOUSTICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA is proud to confer its highest honor on Richard H. Bolt, fourteenth recipient of the Gold Medal Award.

The Gold Medal Award was first conferred 25 years ago at the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the Society. It is appropriate that Dick Bolt should receive the Award in this 50th Anniversary year; like its first recipient, Wallace Waterfall, he has given devoted service to the Society.

Richard Bolt's professional life has taken some unexpected turns; in fact, acoustics, the field in which he has made the greatest contribution, was neither the first nor the last of his interests. The rigid academic program aimed directly at a narrow professional goal was not his way. Rather, Bolt's career has been characterized by the quick grasp of a new interest, a taste for diversity and challenge, and, perhaps above all, the intellectual and personal qualities that can mobilize a group assault on new concepts and problems.

In 1928, Bolt entered the University of California at Berkeley with every expectation that his career would follow from one or the other of his considerable talents in music and graphic design. In fact, he majored in Architecture and received a B.A. degree in 1933. His only contact with physics at the time was a course dumbed down for architects and premedical students. Then articles on acoustics in architecture journals piqued his curiosity because of its obvious relation to both music and design.

In June of his graduation year he was married to Katherine Mary Smith, and the Bolts left immediately on a European honeymoon. In Germany, Dick heard about Professors Erwin Meyer and Hermann Biehle, both of whom were teaching acoustics in Berlin, Meyer in the Heinrich Hertz Institute and Biehle in his own institute. Bolt began to consider whether, with a tutor's help, he could learn enough Germany to study acoustics with these two masters in Berlin. Then Kay wrote a play for Berlin shortwave radio, acted in it, and earned enough to continue the European honeymoon and Dick's equation.

One of Dick's most enviable traits is his ability to apply himself with great intensity to any endeavor that seizes his attention. In six weeks' time he mastered enough Germany to enroll in both Meyer's electroacoustics course and Biehle's classes on organ construction and church acoustics. A whole new world revealed itself, beckoning but still out of reach, for Meyer assured him that an acoustician of first rank needed a solid foundation in physics.

The Bolts returned to Berkeley, and, despite the doubts of the Physics Department, Dick enrolled in Physics A through D in summer school and qualified himself for entry into the graduate program of the Department.

As our colleagues will know from their study of history, the years 1933–1936 are described as the depth of the Great Depression. To help finance his further education, Kay returned to her teaching career and taught dramatics and English in a junior high school during those critical years of Dick's graduate schooling. For one term Dick had to take on the added load of a 4 p.m. to midnight job at a pharmaceutical company, but fellowships and scholarships augmented their financial needs, and in 1937, only three years after his first brush with serious science, Dick passed the comprehensive examinations in the four major areas of physics that the University of California required for the Ph.D. He had successfully bridged the chasm that divides arts and architecture from basic science. From 1937 to 1939, Dick's outstanding grade record assured the Bolts of adequate financial assistance in the form of academic fellowships.

Berkeley had no research facilities or faculty in acoustics, and so Bolt arranged to do his doctoral research at the University of California in Los Angeles under Professor Vern O. Knudsen. His thesis, on "Normal Modes of Vibration in Room Acoustics," was an out-growth of the new classical work on Vibration and Sound, by Philip M. Morse, published in 1936. Kay delivered the first of their three children on the day that Dick delivered his thesis. In June 1939 Bolt received the Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, and that year he was Berkeley's only recipient of a National Research Council post-doctoral Fellowship in Physics; in fact, he was one of only three American recipients in physics. He spent the next year doing research at MIT which led to papers written jointly with, among others, Philip M. Morse, Albert Clogston, and Herman Feshbach, on various aspects of sound waves and sound absorption in both regularly and irregularly shaped rooms.

After a brief sojourn on the faculty at the University of Illinois during 1940, Bolt returned to MIT and directed for two years its war-related Underwater Sound Laboratory. Then in 1943 Bolt was named Scientific Liaison Officer in Subsurface Warfare to the Office of Scientific Research and Development in London, where he played a significant role in coordinating the U.S.-British response to the German submarine menace.

Toward the end of the war, in the fall of 1945, Bolt started organizing an innovative interdepartmental Acoustics Laboratory at MIT and was appointed its Director. Bolt conceived the education program of the Laboratory as a melding of physics, electrical engineering, architecture, mechanical and aeronautical engineering, psychology, and the arts. A supervisory committee drawn from the first three of those fields provided policy guidance. The Acoustics Laboratory was supported by contracts from several government agencies and by fellowships from industry. At its largest, the Acoustics Laboratory employed more than 80 persons, had 12 faculty members, and made a significant dent in the literature on acoustics. In the 12 years of the Laboratory's existence, 108 graduate these were completed by some of the best-known persons in acoustics today.

The end of World War II brought two new developments—a construction boom in public buildings and the introduction of new and noisy jet engines. Because no acoustical consulting firm existed at that time, new demands for services sent architects, industry, and government scurrying about, in search of competent acoustical advice and assistance. These requests mostly came to Universities. MIT referred requests for consulting help to its professors, and in 1948 the number and complexity of the need for acoustical assistance assumed each proportions that two members of the MIT faculty, Bolt and Beranek, hired two students and set up a consultive partnership. A year later, Robert B. Newman of MIT's Architectural Department joined as a partner and in a few years Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc. was incorporated, with Bolt as Chairman, Beranek as President, Robert Newman and Samuel Labate as Vice Presidents, and Jordan Baruch as Treasurer. Today, BBN, sometimes dubbed as Cambridge's third university, employs over 800 persons in all phases of acoustics and in computer science and technology.

By the middle 1950's the U.S. government had begun to take stock of the extent to which support of multidisciplinary research could yield advances not achievable by any one discipline alone. Especially the National Institutes of Health began to see that physical scientists and engineers could attack basic problems of biology in promising new ways, which, however, would require new approaches to the organization and support of physically oriented research. As one result, in 1957, while he was still teaching at MIT, Bolt was appointed by the NIH to serve as Principal Consultant in Biophysics and work with a new study section in that field. This appointment was precisely the kind of opportunity appropriate to match the man—a budding scientific approach and questions amenable to a group assault. For two years, on a part-time basis, Bolt threw his energies into biophysics, with the result that a resoundingly successful international conference took place in Boulder, Colorado, in the summer of 1958 to explore further directions for biophysical science. Attended by 117 people, the conference stimulated a step-function of activity in the biological sciences. Later investigation revealed that, for at least 90 of those present at the conference, new collaborations grew from their contacts, and no fewer than six of the participants later reaped a Nobel prize.

It may have been this sally outside the acoustic theatre that brought Richard Bolt into national visibility. Shortly afterwards he joined the National Science Foundation as Associate Director. In the old days at MIT and BBN Dick had been known for his "crisis approach" to problem-solving. Like a gathering hurricane, he surveyed a problem, created a hypothesis for its solution, and swept up those around him into a swirl of thought, experimentation, and publication. In Washington, from 1960–1963, on leave-of-absence from MIT, he demonstrated this ability to get people to pursue difficult problems together. Both the Office of Science Resources Planning and the Division of Social Sciences of NSF owe their existence to his initiative.

After Washington Dick spent 1963–1964 as a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Stanford. Then his desire to devote more effort to public problems led him to resign as Professor of Acoustics and become a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, where he taught for the next several years.

In the last 20 years, Bolt has gained a well-merited reputation as a hard worker who gives time and talent to public causes, and especially as a master of expository reporting. Agency after agency and committee on committee have called on him to organize their deliberations and oversee their published proceedings. Examples are "Biophysical Science and Its Relation to Medical Research" (1959), prepared for the H.E.W.; "Toward the Library of the 21st Century" (1964) for the Council on Library Resources; "Social Directions for Technology" (1971) for the National Academy of Engineering; and "AISLE: An Intersociety Liaison Committee on the Environment" (1975), written for 24 professional societies.

Since becoming Chairman of the Board Emeritus at BBN. Dick has taken on several assignments that combine the public interest and science, often including acoustical science. In 1973–1974, he was Chairman of a Committee of Consultants engaged by U.S. Judge John J. Sirica to study the White House "Watergate" tapes.

In 1977, as Visiting Scientist to the Great and General Court, as Massachusetts calls its state legislature, he initiated a successful program to help the legislators understand better the meaning of scientific evidence in relation to proposed legislation. This program resulted in a large report, "Lawmaking, Technology, and Quality Growth" (1976), which is frequently referred to in state capitols.

Again in the national arena, Dick chaired the National Academy of Sciences "Committee on Evaluation of Sound Spectrograms," and contributed mightily to the Committee's findings and recommendations on voice identification.

And now, to compete the circle, Dick Bolt's interest in acoustics has not lain stagnant during these years of national and international problem-solving. Bolt's publications in acoustics number more than 50, including his book on Sonics, written with Theodore F. Heuter, and his most recent paper titled "Dealing with Facts and Values in Noise Control" (1978), published as a "Distinguished Lecture" for the Institute of Noise Control Engineering. Many new ideas in acoustics originated with Dick; he was first to demonstrate analytically how room reverberation affects speech intelligibility; he published the first paper on calculating the resonances of nonrectangular spaces; he was first to propose the application of overall systems planning to noise control; and with Dr. Thomas Ballantine of the Massachusetts General Hospital, he pioneered the use of ultrasonics in medical diagnosis. In recognition of his national stature in acoustics, Bolt was selected in 1953 to the first chairman of CHABA, the National Research Council Committee on Hearing and Bio-Acoustics.

The Acoustical Society honored Bolt in 1942 when it presented him with its first Biennial Award. He served from 1944—1947 on the Executive Council of the Society, where he undertook, with Cyril Harris and John Steinberg, to rewrite the Society's Constitution. The following year he became the first person to serve as President-Elect of the Society under one of its newly written by-laws. In 1949 he succeeded to a term as the Society's President. And when the International Commission on Acoustics was founded in 1951, Bolt was chosen to be its first President. Not to be overlooked among his contributions to acoustics was his service as consultant in graphic design to the sculptor of the Gold Medal he is about to receive.

Leo L. BeranekRANEK