Acoustical Society of America
Wallace Clement Sabine Award - 1959

Floyd Rowe Watson

Professor F. R. Watson, as the following biographical sketch reveals, has well earned the honor accorded him by the Acoustical Society of America as the second recipient of the Wallace Clement Sabine Award. The Society well know that he played a key role in the founding of the Acoustical Society, and its Journal, and in the development of Architectural Acoustics.

Professor Watson has long been affectionately known by his many friends and colleagues in the Society as the grand old man of the Society, as the truly gentle man who always paid thanks and tribute to those who had served as hosts and planners at all official meetings of the Society.

Professor Watson was born April 23, 1872, in Lawrence, Kansas–the fifth child of Norman Allan and Helen Hitchcock Watson. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1876. Floyd attended grade and high school at Los Angeles, and worked on several newspapers, including French and German language papers, and also the Los Angeles Times. He attended and graduated from the Los Angeles Normal School, which was the forerunner of the present University of California at Los Angeles. He began his study of physics at the University of California at Berkeley in 1895, and was one of the first two undergraduate laboratory assistants in the Department of Physics. During his last year at Berkeley, he held the LeConte Fellowship in Physics, and following the receipt of the Bachelor of Science Degree, he was appointed Whiting Traveling Fellow in Physics, which permitted him to go to Cornell University to work toward the Ph.D. degree. The following year at Cornell he held the President White Fellowship in Physics; in 1901-02 he was a teaching assistant, and he received the Ph.D. degree in Physics in 1902, having completed two experimental problems: (1) "Surface Tension at the Interface of Two Liquids Determined Experimentally by the Method of Ripple Waves", and (2) "Viscosity of Liquids Determined by Measurement of Capillary Waves", one of which served as his doctoral thesis. While at Cornell he met for the first time Wallace Clement Sabine, actually at a meeting of the Physical Society in New York City.

In 1902 he accepted an instructorship in Physics at the University of Illinois, but he took time off to marry Estelle Jane Barden, a mathematics major, whom he first me at the University of California although both had been students at the Los Angeles Normal School. He rose in the ranks at Illinois and became professor 1917, and served in that rank until he became Professor Emeritus at retirement in 1940. He organized and taught courses in sound, architectural acoustics, and a graduate seminar in acoustics. A total of eleven students earned their masters, professional, or Ph.D. degree under the direction of Professor Watson, specializing in acoustics.

His researches covered the subjects of surface tension and viscosity, ripple waves, sound transmission, through partitions, absorption of sound by building and acoustical materials, and acoustics of buildings.

His pioneer work in architectural acoustics began with the study and correction of the acoustics of the University of Illinois Auditorium, which suffered principally from convergent reflections from concave surfaces, and from excessive reverberation. His thorough investigation of this Auditorium included a trip to Europe in 1911-12 to study the acoustics of famous European auditoriums. After the successful correction of the acoustical defects in the Illinois Auditorium, he was honored with the ceremonial dinner which was attended by Wallace Clement Sabine.

Besides his well known Acoustics of Buildings published by Wiley in 1923, which came out as a third edition in 1941, and which was the first integrated book on this subject in the United States, he later produced a book on "Sound" and wrote the article on "Acoustics of Buildings" in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Watson's publications total 135 for almost all of which he was the sole author. His list of publications would have been increased considerable if he had not adhered to his strict policy of having his students publish under their own names only.

Professor Watson has served as consultant on acoustics for the Eastman Theater and Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Purdue Music Hall, Bloomington, Indiana; Indianapolis Coliseum; the Pentagon, Washington D.C.; and numerous other buildings. He was consulted for the government of the United States on underwater sound during World War I at New London, Connecticut, and again during World War II at the California Institute of Technology. Professor Watson has been a Fellow of the American Physical Society since 1910, was a founding member of Acoustical Society of America in 1929, the chairman of the Editorial Board of the Acoustical Society from 1929-1933, and editor of the Journal from 1933 to 1939. He served as President of the Society from 1939-1941, and has been honorary member of the Society since 1954.

He has continued as a consultant on acoustics of buildings from the time of his early studies of the auditorium at the University of Illinois until the present time. For example, he is responsible for the acoustical design of the lecture rooms at the School of Law at the University of California at Los Angeles. The acoustics of these lecture halls are highly acclaimed by the law faculty at UCLA and by many other legal educators. I learned recently that the Law School at his own University of Illinois has lecture rooms that were modeled after the ones he designed for UCLA.

The writer first met Professor Watson at a meeting of the American Physical Society at Chicago, November 25-25, 1921. There were three papers on acoustics presented at this meeting: one by Professor F. R. Watson and W. B. Worsham on "Doppler's Principle Illustrated by Ripple Waves"; the second by Dr. Paul E. Sabine (whose son, Hale is the presenter of the second Wallace C. Sabine Award to Professor Watson) on "The Efficiency of Artificial Aids to Hearing"; and the third by V.O. Knudsen, on "Sensibility of the Ear to Small Differences in Intensity and Frequency." That was quite a field day for acoustics in that era–three papers on one program! And F. R. Watson's paper was a model of his characteristically crystal-clear presentation.

Professor Watson's two children have followed very closely in their father's footsteps: Norman Allen who is a professor of physics at UCLA and was a frequent contributor to the Journal of the Acoustical Society, especially on researches dealing with hearing by bone conduction; and Robert Barden, associate professor of physics at the University of Texas who is a fellow of the Acoustical Society and a contributor to the Journal.

For many reasons besides the ones enumerated above, Professor F. R. Watson is pre-eminently qualified to be the recipient of the Wallace Clement Sabine Award.

The writer is greatly indebted to Norman A. Watson who supplied the factual information contained in the biographical sketch. No one else could have furnished greater accuracy or thoroughness, and I am greatly indebted to him.