Philip M. Morse
Acoustical Society of America
Gold Medal Award
Philip M. Morse
THE ACOUSTICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA is honored to award Philip McCord Morse the 1973 Gold Medal Award. Author, professor, theoretician, administrator and national servant—he is perhaps America's most versatile physicist.
Morse sprang from a heritage of engineering, politics, and newspaper publishing which, with his aptitude in mathematics and his enthusiasm for science during his high school days in Lakewood, Ohio led to his concentration in physics at Case Institute (now Case Western Reserve University), and his eventual success as advisor to the U.S. Government.
Morse's interest in acoustics stemmed from his association with Dayton C. Miller, one of this country's great physicists, who supervised Morse's senior thesis, and to whom Morse dedicated his book Vibration and Sound. While at college, Phil became so involved in amateur radio broadcasting that, with two other young men, he opened a radio store in Cleveland. The business prospered, and thought it cost him a year of college in 1922–1923, it also enabled him to earn his way through Case.
Morse's first scientific paper, an analytical study of stellar motion which appeared in the Astrophysical Journal, was the distillate of his senior thesis.
Over his father's objections that he could not earn a living in physics, Phil applied for admission and financial aid to Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago, and matriculated in 1926 at Princeton, possibly because Princeton's offer of a fellowship paid more than Harvard's.
In the Graduate School at Princeton Phil expanded his interest in music, read copiously in history, classics, and other branches of the humanities, and rode the train to New York to attend symphony and opera, as well as some of the other entertainments offered by that metropolis during the Prohibition era.
At Princeton, Karl T. Compton became Phil's mentor and encouraged him to write a number of papers (one a collaboration with Compton) on theoretical details of gas discharge. During his three years of graduate school, he even accomplished the prodigious task of completing, with E. U. Condon, his first book, Quantum Mechanics. For his outstanding performance—he stood at the top of his class—he was awarded the Jacobus Fellowship.
After receiving the Ph.D. degree in 1929, Phil became Instructor in Physics at Princeton. His interests now turned to quantum mechanics. In 1930 he spent the summer at the University of Michigan, where he had contact with visiting professors Fermi of Italy and Ehrenfest of Netherlands. That was followed by an academic year in Germany under a Rockefeller Fellowship with Arnold Sommerfield. There he got to know visiting physicists Linus Pauling and W. L. Bragg. He spent a relaxing summer in Cambridge, England, with N. F. Mott, H. W. S. Massey, and Julius Stratton, where the opportunity also arose for him to become acquainted with the physicists Blackett, Dirac, Fowler, Rutherford, and Cockroft.
Until the fall of 1931, when he joined the faculty of M.I.T. as an Assistant Professor, Phil was an atomic physicist. He was snared by Karl Compton, President, and John Slater, Head of the Physics Department, at a time when the Physics Department was in the throes of a reorganization in which Phil subsequently played an influential role. Phil's first teaching assignment was to be a new course on "Sound, Speech and Audition." Probably he was chosen for that task because of his work with D. C. Miller. Morse later wrote, "After two years of struggle with inappropriate texts, I decided to write one myself. [My excuse for a new text] is that in the past ten years, the rapid growth of atomic physics has induced a complete reorganization of the science of acoustics. New tools now available include electronics and a new mathematical technique that is capable of throwing light on all problems of wave theory."
The family Morse took up residence near Harvard Square and Phil soon became a friend of Professor F. V. (Ted) Hunt at Harvard. Morse wrote, "I spent some time getting to know Professor Hunt, who was thoroughly acquainted with the subject of room acoustics, a field at which I had become disturbed because of its poor theoretical backing." Morse recognized Hunt as an ingenious experimentalist and Hunt held Morse in the highest esteem as a theoretician. Starting with Morse's Vibration and Sound (1936) and Hunt's papers on "Reverberation Measurements" (1933–1936), the two physicists and their students made the American Cambridge the center of airborne physical acoustics during the next two decades.
An intense but friendly rivalry existed between Morse and Hunt. It began with Morse's Chapter VIII and a paper in 1939 expounding the normal-mode theory of sound in rectangular spaces. Hunt and his students applied the theory experimentally and analytically to a small marble box and to the Sabine reverberation chamber (1939). Morse's students fired back with a barrage of papers, mainly theoretical, on normal modes in rooms, sound diffraction and absorption by strips of materials, a variable boundary impedance, and sound attenuation in lined ducts. Hunt's students countered with papers on the acoustic impedance of a variety of porous materials and the behavior in sound in a room with non-uniform boundaries. Morse's colleagues and students replied with a further flurry of papers.
Then in the early summer of 1940 the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), was formed with Karl Compton at its head, and the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T. soon followed. Morse worked briefly for the Rad Lab. In the late summer, at the request of the Armed Services, the NDRC established within the National Research Council, a "Committee on Sound Control in Combat Vehicles." With Morse as its chairman, the NRC Committee caused two laboratories at Harvard to be formed, the Electro-Acoustic Laboratory with L. L. Beranek as director and the Psycho-Acoustic laboratory with S. S. Stevens as director. Those sister laboratories grew to a combined size of several hundred persons and performed a significant task in improving voice communication in combat vehicles and in reducing noise-induced fatigue among operations personnel.
Also in 1940, the Navy asked M.I.T. to study means for countering the acoustic mines which Germany had just introduced into the Atlantic war. That NDRC project was set up at M.I.T. with Morse as director, a post he held until he was called to Washington in 1942.
Phil Morse is not known as a design engineer, but at about that time he tossed off an invention
that thwarted the Germany acoustic torpedo. Together with R. H. Bolt, R. D. Fay, J. Trimmer, and E. White, Phil was involved in the search for a cheap and reliable source of intense noise to blow up acoustic mines. One night in 1941, as the group was preparing the test several such devices, Phil came up with the suggestion that they tow through the water two four-foot-long water pipes, each an inch-and-a-half in diameter and spaced a half-inch apart, rigged in such a way that their length would be perpendicular to the direction of travel and that the water would be forced through the slot between the pipes. The contraption was built by a machinist that night. The next day's test found Phil's gimmick first in noisiness by many decibels. Phil had invented a large underwater "raspberry." Later when Phil's "Foxer" was towed behind American destroyers, it successfully decoyed and blew up several acoustic torpedoes without the loss of a single escort destroyer. During the same period the British, who used a different noisemaker, lost three destroyers to acoustic torpedoes.
Morse's next pioneering effort involved operations research. By mid-1941 German U-boats threatened to cut off shipping and the transportation of personnel across the Atlantic. To help counter the terrible danger, the British initiated a new activity called "operations research." The U.S. Navy, on learning of it, set up the U.S. Navy Operations Research Group in Washington in mid-1942. Morse was named its first director, a title he held until the end of the war, in 1945. His group scored great successes in the prediction of whereto go look for submarines so that attack could be made, and how to deploy air-borne depth charges. For that work, which helped greatly to attenuate the U-boat threat, Morse was awarded the U.S. Medal for Merit, the country's highest civilian, defense-related award. The culmination of the ORG activity was the book Methods of Operations Research (written with G. E. Kimball, 1950) and Morse's election as first President of the Operations Research Society of America (1952–1953).
Morse's diversity and skill as a diplomat and administrator led to his serving for two years (1946–1948) as first director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the center for nuclear research in the Northeast. He next was asked by the Department of Defense to become the first director of research for the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position he held for two years. In 1948, off-hours effort led to publication of the second edition of Vibration and Sound.
Phil returned to M.I.T. in 1950, having reached a milestone in the development of mathematical analysis and logic for the design of operational strategies, not only in the military domain, but also in the management of industry, government, and community.
Morse served in 1950–1951, as President of the Acoustical Society of America, in the middle of the Society's "Cambridge Years" (Bolt, President 1949–1950; Morse, President, 1950–1951; Hunt, President, 1951–1952). Morse guided the Society through a difficult period financially and pointed the way to the period of immense growth that followed. He next wrote (with H. Feshbach) the well-known The Methods of Theoretical Physics which in Phil's view is his magnum opus. In 1956 he became the first director of the M.I.T. Computation Center.
Acoustics is never far below the surface in Phil's life. Besides supervising these in acoustics between 1956 and 1970, he wrote an article with K. U. Ingard on "Linear Acoustic Theory" for the Springer Hanbuch der Physik (1961). He also contributed articles on acoustics to Menzel's Fundamental Formulas of Physics (1955) and Condon's Handbook for Physics (1958). Morse, again with Uno Ingard, wrote the important book Theoretical Acoustics (1968). This graduate-level text uses generously the theoretical techniques of quantum mechanics, field theory, and communication theory, to mention a few, to solve acoustical problems.
An award is nothing new to Phil Morse. At Case he received the yearly prize for the highest grade in physics. There too he was elected to Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Xi. In 1934 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and he became a Fellow of the American Physical Society the same year. In 1939 he was elected a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America.
In 1940, he was awarded on Honorary D.Sc. from Case Institute. A decade later he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In 1965 he received the Silver Medal of the Operational Research Society of London, and in 1969 the Lancaster Prize of the Operations Research Society of America for his book Library Effectiveness. He served as President of the American Physical Society 1971–1972. He has served since 1957 as Editor of the Annals of Physics Two more books were squeezed in—Queues, Inventories and Maintenance in 1958 and Thermal Physics in 1962.
Phil Morse, through his important books and published papers, and a long succession of students and protegés, qualifies as one of the giants of contemporary acoustics. That he could have made those contributions while providing primary leadership in quantum mechanics, thermal physics, operations research, and theoretical techniques applied to physics, makes his accomplishments in acoustics even more remarkable.
Leo L. Beranek
[Acknowledgment: A substantial portion of the foregoing material was obtained through the courtesy of the Niels Bohr Library, Center for History of Physics, at the American Institute of Physics.]
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