Acoustical Society of America
R. Bruce Lindsay Award - 1993

Michael D. Collins

Late at night, on a research vessel somewhere in the Atlantic just below the Arctic Circle, a scientist on the late night shift finally spied the faint glimmerings of the Aurora Borealis. He summoned the other scientists and engineers, most from their deep sleep, to the top deck to behold one of the great wonders of nature. It was too dark for these ocean acousticians to find a strong rope or a gangplank and so this young scientist survived, continued his research, and deservedly is now receiving the R. Bruce Lindsay Award.

Michael D. Collins was born in Greenville, Pennsylvania on 7 March 1958. His family moved to Tampa, Florida in 1965 where he attended an assortment of schools, worked as a construction worker and auto mechanic, and attended Hillsborough Community College, where an instructor informed him of the existence of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Shortly thereafter he was playing on the MIT basketball team. He received a B.S. in Mathematics at MIT in 1981 and continued his studies in mathematics at Stanford.

Mike was first noticed by the acoustics community when an application for federal employment surfaced at the Naval Ocean Research and Development Activity (NORDA) in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, from a Volkswagen mechanic in Tampa, Florida, who had straight A's from MIT and an M.S. in Mathematics from Stanford (1982–83). Nevertheless, he was hired. His first assignment at NORDA was to take a computer tape of an existing acoustic model, mount it on a computer, and get it running. I do not know, to this day, whether it was a misunderstanding, stubbornness, or whatever (I think Ken Gilbert, Richard Evans, and Michael Werby were partially culpable), but rather than carry out his assignment, he developed in a period of a week the initial version of his finite element parabolic equation (PE) model. He was immediately characterized as different and encouraged (shipped out) to study for a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics with Greg Kriegsmann at Northwestern University. There he met Kim Ellen Howard and was married in 1987.

During his Northwestern period, I occasionally chatted with his advisor, who told me that Mike more or less felt he should have received a Ph.D. after his first week there. A lively academic relationship ensued with his advisors—Professor Ed Reiss was also involved. He stayed at Northwestern for three years concentrating his research on asymptotic methods applied to acoustic propagation models and was awarded a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics in 1988. During this three-year period he often commuted to Mississippi, where he was employed by SYNTEK, Inc. as a contractor to NORDA. These three years were not only productive for him as a student, but he was also extremely active as a researcher at NORDA—in those days his trademark was a sleeping bag in the office where he lived, slept, and breathed research.

Shortly after receiving his Ph.D. he joined the Acoustics Division of the Naval Research Laboratory where he was supplied with enough computers in his office, home, and everywhere else—thereby eliminating the necessity for a sleeping bag in his office. (He still has a sleeping bag in his office which he occasionally stumbles into after a heated basketball game with twenty years olds). His initial assignment was to get involved with experiments on signal processing and geophysical inversion. However, having been infected by the parabolic equation (PE), he continued to have severe PE attacks while he pursued pioneering research in nonlinear inversion methods, simulated annealing based time domain signal processing, and "focalization."

In the last few years, Mike has become recognized as a brilliant world class research scientist in ocean acoustics and acoustical inverse methods. In a short period of about 5 years, 20 papers on theory, numerical modeling, and experiments have appeared in refereed journals and more are in the pipeline. He has also been on three field experiments including being chief scientist and is planning two experiments which will take place in the Spring of 1993; a geophysical inversion experiment in the Mediterranean Sea and an environmental signal processing experiment in the Tasman Sea.

The quality and breadth of his work has been truly astounding. He is recognized as the leading researcher in the field of elastic, range-dependent parabolic equation (PE) methods, and he has pioneered work in combining the fields of nonlinear optimization theory, wave propagation theory, signal processing, and inverse methods. To give a sense of the acceleration and intensity of his efforts, in just the last two years his reported research has included range-dependent elastic PE, two-way PE, a simulated annealing optimal beamformer (with experiments), focalization (a new technique he developed to simultaneously focus and localized acoustic radiators in complex ocean environments), geophysical stochastic inversion (theory and data inversion), and even a stochastic speech beam former analyzer (that Acoustical Society presentation was probably one of the best attended talks at a recent meeting because it cut across so many areas).

Among his latest research is the development of a split-step Pade PE which is parallelizable and is a computational breakthrough as far as computing long-range propagation involving interaction with complex elastic media. This research permitted accurate modeling of pulse propagation over trans-oceanic distances as related to the recent Heard Island Feasibility Test. His research in nonlinear optimization methods for geophysical inversion and signal processing has been extremely innovative and fruitful. He has experimentally demonstrated both the simulated annealing time domain beamformer technique and focalization on two different at-sea experiments. Most recently, he has further extended his research interests to include chaos theory and in particular, whether or not chaos places real limitations on accurate propagation predictions.

Nobody is perfect and Mike is an example of this maxim. His main fault is that he wants to be able to do everything himself—theory, numerics, experiments, etc. An example of this comes from his love of astronomy. His first venture to the southern hemisphere was a recent trip to New Zealand; he carried his telescope with him since there are no telescopes in New Zealand(?). He then proceeded to set up a midnight observatory outside his motel room attracting the usual late night motel crowd. The resulting astronomical party atmosphere and the decibel level was as to be expected. The next day, Professor Alick Kibblewhite arranged for an observation session at the University of Auckland Observatory, thereby preventing a minor international incident.

Dr. Collin's research very much cuts across many state-of-the-art areas of ocean acoustics with many of his accomplishments previously considered not possible, i.e., elastic and two-way PE, simultaneous localization, environmental search (focalization), etc. Not only can he easily be classified, as one of the hottest scientists, regardless of age, presently doing research in acoustics, but he is also well known for his enthusiastic interaction with his many friends and constantly growing number of colleagues. A phone call to Mike results in detailed explanations of whatever, and/or an instant e-mail transfer of any computer code he has developed. His office is constantly occupied with other scientists who seek his advice on a myriad of technical topics. The R. Bruce Lindsay Award is extremely appropriate and no doubt is a harbinger of Mike's continuing fruitful career as a research scientist.