Allan D. Pierce

Acoustical Society of America

Gold Medal Award


Allan D. Pierce

Iowa has madeimportant contributions to acoustics; one of them is Allan Pierce,who was born December 18, 1936 in Clarinda. Allan's familylived in Wichita, Kansas during World War Two, then movedto Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he attended New MexicoState University. Two and a half years were sufficient forhim to earn a B.S. with highest honors in Physicsin 1957. From there, he pursued his graduate studies inthe Physics Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whichmarks the beginning of his well-known affinity for the Bostonarea. In 1962 he was awarded the Ph.D. in physicsfor his thesis on electron lattice interactions in the Born-Oppenheimerapproximation. With the encouragement of Philip Morse, who was onhis Ph.D. committee, Allan went to work for the RandCorporation in Santa Monica. We are thankful that Allan wasnew to the company. Otherwise Albert Latter probably would nothave turned to Allan when the senior researchers working inquantum physics turned down a project in atmospheric propagation, therebydiverting Allan from the area of his doctoral work toacoustics.

Allan's second stay in the Boston area came when hetransferred to the Avco Corporation in Wilmington from 1963 to1966. He then returned to MIT as an Assistant Professor,where he was promoted to Associate Professor in 1968. Allandeparted for the warmer climate of Atlanta in 1973 whenhe moved to the Georgia Institute of Technology as aProfessor of Mechanical Engineering. He was awarded a Regents' Professorshipthere in 1976. During his tenure at Georgia Tech hehad visiting positions at the Max Planck Institut für Strömungsforschungfrom 1976 to 1977, and the Transportation Systems Center ofthe U.S. Department of Transportation, which was his third stayin Boston. He departed Georgia Tech in 1988 for PennsylvaniaState University, where he was a Professor and the LeonhardChair Holder, with joint appointments in the Department of MechanicalEngineering and the Graduate Program in Acoustics. His most recentreturn to the Boston area was in 1993, when hebecame the Chair of the Department of Aerospace and MechanicalEngineering at Boston University. He stepped down from that positionin 1999, but continues there as a Professor. Throughout hiscareer, his wife Penelope Claffey, who he married in 1961,has been by his side. She and their children, Jenniferand Bradford, are justifiably proud of his accomplishments. He hassuccessfully managed the difficult task of being a devoted husbandand father, while simultaneously being fully committed to his profession.

Allanis an intellectual in the truest sense. If you cannotfind Allan during a professional meeting, look for him inan antique bookstore. His interests are universal, and his researchin a diverse range of topics always blends physical insightand mathematical rigor. Allan's early work addressed propagation of soundin the atmosphere. In a Letter to the Editor inNature, he described how the magnitude of an explosion couldbe determined from its measured waveform, which was used toverify the ban on atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, andsubsequently to estimate the magnitude of the Mt. Saint Helen'seruption. His analysis explaining the effects of turbulence on sonicboom rise time remains one of the best available theories.It was a logical transition for him when he turnedto problems in propagation in natural waveguides. The theory hedeveloped to predict propagation in natural waveguides whose properties varyslowly with horizontal distance is still quoted today. Interestingly, thiswork was guided by analogies he drew with his thesiswork. In fact, Allan's ability to recognize analogies between apparentlydifferent areas is an important attribute of his approach.

A complete survey of Allan's work would need to describehis contribution to development of the surface variational principle forradiation and scattering, and his application of geometrical acoustics conceptsto describe wave propagation of plates and shells, which ledto new insights into the interpretation of experimental data. Ahot topic several years ago was "fuzzy structures," about whichhe provided mathematical insight to a much debated subject. Oneshould also recognize his efforts in laser generation of sound,and diffraction around thick barriers. In each area, Allan's papersare at the core, and often the first to becited by others.

Research is only one aspect of Allan Pierce.He was the chief architect of two outstanding programs inacoustics. At Georgia Tech, the prospect of working with himenticed several individuals, including me, to join the School ofMechanical Engineering. As department chair at Boston University he convincedthe administration to expand the faculty, with many of thesubsequently recruited faculty having research interests in acoustics. At PennState, where the acoustics program was highly respected prior tohis arrival, Allan provided an intellectual focus as a facultycolleague, as well as the Technical Director of the Centerfor Acoustics and Vibrations. In every academic position Allan hasheld, he has had a profound impact on a generationof young acousticians who he nurtured and mentored, and noware highly accomplished members of our Society. An important aspectof Allan's educational activities is his textbook, Acoustics: An Introductionto Its Physical Principles and Applications, which is one ofthe best-sellers in the ASA Books program. What a wonderfultreatise it is, filled with theory, data, explanations, and references.I begin each acoustics course by telling the students thatthey will hate using his book in class, because itis more intense than most books they will encounter, butthey will recognize upon completion of their studies that ithas made them an acoustics expert.

Perhaps education will be hisgreatest legacy, and yet there is much more that isimportant. Allan is tireless in his professional activities, especially withinour Society. Is there an area where he has notparticipated? Is there an activity where he has not takena leadership role? Technical committees, Executive Council, Education, Membership, Chairof the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Noise Controland Acoustics Committee, US National Committee for Theoretical and AppliedMechanics, and countless other activities that do not show upon a resumé. He was an area editor for ourJournal, founding co-editor of the Journal of Computational Acoustics andco-editor of the Physical Acoustics series published by Academic Press.Presently he is a member of the Editorial Board ofthe Journal of Sound and Vibration. All this while servingas Editor-in-Chief for our Journal. He has taken over ina perilous time, with technology threatening our old ways. Hehas launched major initiatives to ensure that our Journal continuesto be the premiere vessel for disseminating knowledge of acoustics.He has converted a part-time job into a full-time avocation.There are no better hands than his to guide theJournal into the future.

If Allen has an idol, it isLord Rayleigh, which is a demonstration of the standards thathe sets for himself and others. Allan delivered the RayleighLecture at the ASME annual meeting in 1992. In Novemberof last year at our meeting in San Diego, hewas the first recipient of the Rossing Prize in AcousticsEducation, for which he gave an enthralling talk on thelife of Rayleigh. An incident when he was on thefaculty of Georgia Tech vividly illustrates Allan's esteem for Rayleigh.We were conducting the oral part of the Ph.D. qualifyingexam in acoustics. One student had done quite well, butwe had some time left, so Allan asked him "Whowas the greatest acoustician?" The student had studied everything, butnot in a historical context, and clearly was flustered. Afterthinking for approximately a minute, he said to Allan "You!"Allan corrected him by simply saying "Rayleigh", then thanked himfor the compliment. The student passed despite this serious gapin his knowledge!

Other recognitions Allan Pierce has received include theSenior U.S. Scientist Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundationin 1976, the Silver Medal in Physical Acoustics from ASAin 1991, and the Per Bruel Gold Medal for NoiseControl and Acoustics from ASME in 1995. He was namedthe Outstanding Thesis Advisor by the Georgia Tech Chapter ofSigma Xi in 1988. I do not think that anyone now alive has done as much as he toadvance acoustics, not just as an area in which towork, but as a place in which to make ahome. It is most appropriate that the prior recognitions ofAllan Pierce's contributions be capped by our Gold Medal.

Jerry H.Ginsberg