Alan Powell

Acoustical Society of America

Biennial Award


Alan Powell

On February 1 our President wrote a letter to an outstanding young member of our society advising him that he had just been selected as the recipient of our 1962 Biennial Award. He addressed the letter to an Englishman: four days later an American received it. This then is in a way a double tribute—one to Dr. Alan Powell, who became a United States Citizen on February 2nd and who is to receive the award, and one to the Acoustical Society, itself. I think you will agree that intelligence and versatility are present in both cases.

It is pleasant to talk about Alan Powell for he is an easy friend. It is easy to compliment him because he has done so much to talk about.

Dr. Powell has some experience in receiving awards and honors. At ten he won a scholarship which took him to Buxton College, and he began his university career armed with a British Empire Scholarship, only five of which are given each year in the Empire. The Royal Aeronautical Society awarded him the Baden-Powell Prize in 1948 and the Orville Wright Prize in 1953. They made him an Associate Fellow in 1955 and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers raised him to Associate Membership in 1958. We in the Acoustical Society elected him Fellow last year, then in March this year the Institute of the AeroSpace Sciences made him an Associate Fellow.

Actually, Alan is in our field not through premeditation but through a spontaneous and driving interest in our problems. This is the best motive to find in an associate. His education and industrial work were in aeronautical engineering with primary emphasis in aerodynamics and structures. There could be no more useful background for dealing with the types of acoustical problems which absorb most of his research interest.

His papers, mostly fundamental contributions in the field of aerodynamically generated sound, number about 50 at the present time. If we had published all of them they would have filled 4 or 5 average issues of our Journal. And, he teaches, supervises a research laboratory, serves on many committees at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is an Associate Professor of Engineering, and he consults with industry.

It is for his written contributions, resulting from his theoretical and experimental skills, that Alan is most widely known. In his careful, thorough, and precise attack on the extremely complex phenomena of acoustic fatigue, aerodynamic boundary layer pressures, jet and rocket engine noises, general turbulence effects, vortex sounds, and edge tones, Alan could remind one of a meticulous, but more botanically minded than hungry, diner attacking a boiled pearl onion. With logic as an X-ray and intuition as the photographic plate he speculatively reflects on the nature of the core. Then, with mathematical scalpel and physical tweezers he carefully dissects it layer by layer and segment of layer by segment of layer. He resists the temptation to grab the urgent fork and plunge headlong toward the middle, only to have the core shoot out, slither across the plate and table, and fall into some dark and inaccessible corner of the dining room.

For his well known scientific contributions and for this approach, our Executive Council has selected him for our award. Not so well known are two other worthy accomplishments of Dr. Powell's which individually could make him a contender for anyone's award.

He is not in such a hurry to carry on with his repast that he does not stop to explain the analyzed segments and layers. He teaches, and he is a good teacher. He can talk on any level. The proper words and pictures are available for the learned acoustician, the busy executive, or the budding young scientist or engineer. Los Angeles engineers of various disciplines are indoctrinated into acoustics in his evening UCLA extension course "Engineering Acoustics." He has created a new course in aero-acoustics, with a sequel, for graduate students. The notes from these courses are now growing into a text for all of us. He has delivered three dozen formal lectures to experienced and practicing engineers of several engineering societies. And, on a limited budget, he has developed the Aerosonics Laboratory at UCLA where his graduate students can practice the art of dealing with fundamentals and learn to be good engineers in the process.

While Alan is dissecting and explaining he will, if asked, go even further. He is not afraid to look through the remaining unbroken and translucent layers of his subject and speculate as to the nature of the core. His years of careful thought make his statements "I think that . . .," "I believe that . . .," and "There is a good possibility that . . ." more often right than wrong. In this role as a consultant he renders his third important valuable service.

If the inhabitants of Olympus are kind to us and to Alan they will, in his many remaining years, divide his time so that he may offer and apply all three of his able talents; to study, to explain, and to recommend.

Alan Powell's principal leisure is in exploring the Western United States. In the six years he has been in the Los Angeles area, he has seem more of the land lying between the Pacific Ocean and the whole length of the Rockies, than have many members of the Sierra Club (which is a pretty far ranging and energetic group). Highways to him are conveniences to get to where the fun roads start and the Indians end. He has worn out one automobile already, after 95,000 miles. On one pack-in trip to the true and inaccessible Rainbow Bridge he exhausted a good set of knees (his own) and the guide's good dog. He takes beautiful pictures and worries about color balance and composition, and other concerns of the artist-photographer. Sometimes his wife, June, uses the camera. There are beautiful pictures of the Bridge, and June and their guide on their horses. The pictures June took show Alan bringing up the rear, leading his horse, and the old guide dog keeping him company.

Finally, we wish Alan many years of worthy accomplishments. When it comes to the purpose you were put here for Alan, if we may use an expression of your native England, you, Alan Powell, are "twigging" it.