Victor W. Sparrow

Acoustical Society of America

R. Bruce Lindsay Award


Victor W. Sparrow

Victor W. Sparrow was born on 18 February 1963 at Schilling AFB near Salina, Kansas, but spent almost all of his childhood within the environs of Roanoke, Virginia, where he attended public schools. He was an eclectic childhood with many interests; among those with a long-term influence was a fascination with computers and an appreciation of music. He was by all accounts a very good student and was Co-Salutatorian in a graduating class of the order of 400. Life after high school was of no great concern during his senior year, so he applied to only one institution (Duke University) that granted four-year degrees. Vic's procrastination led to his application being one date late, and rules are rules, so he found himself on the waiting list. He was of course eventually admitted, although there was no way that a tardy applicant, even with demonstrable need, could be considered for full financial aid. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the work-study that he did to help pay expenses led to a mutual recognition that Vic had an extraordinary natural aptitude for computers. At the end of his sophomore year, Vic was placed in charge of the College of Engineering's computer system, with compensatory free tuition and board and room.

Victor graduated with highest honors from Duke in 1985 with a dual degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The impression created by a general undergraduate course in acoustics plus Vic's long-term enchantment with music and an aborted avocation of playing the violin led to a desire to do graduate work in acoustics. Electrical Engineering at the University of Illinois was a natural choice for graduate work, because of its national prominence in both supercomputing and acoustics, and also because ASA member Paul Schomer was able to offer Vic a research assistantship at the nearby U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories (USA—CERL). At the University, Victor took courses and interacted with professors involved in physical acoustics, including ASA members Floyd Dunn, Leon Frizzell, William O'Brien, and John Harris. His research work was with ASA member Richard Raspet of USA—CERL, who also held an adjunct faculty position with the University. At that time, the U.S. had extensive troops stationed in heavily populated areas of West Germany, and CERL had the task of addressing the problem of noise generated by Army training operations. Raspet was concerned with the nonlinear acoustics of noise propagation from problematic sources such as explosions, and it became evident that realistic modeling of nonlinear propagation over terrain required large-scale computation. Sparrow, whose computer background made him a natural recruit, undertook with Raspet an ambitious frontal attack that made extensive employment of super computers and of sophisticated numerical techniques for the solution of coupled partial differential equations.

Victor's involvement with the Acoustical Society began almost immediately after his arrival at Illinois, and a steady stream of papers co-authored with Raspet were presented at national meetings over a five-year period. Victor's first attendance at an ASA meeting was at the Cleveland meeting in spring 1986; his first talk at a meeting was given in Anaheim in fall 1986. Raspet left USA—CERL in 1987 to take a faculty position at the University of Mississippi, but continued to serve as an adjunct professor at Illinois and to supervise Vic's research. For three years the long-range collaboration between Sparrow and Raspet was punctuated by frequent train trips by Sparrow on the City of New Orleans from Illinois to Mississippi. At that time the National Center for Physical Acoustics was just getting underway with ASA members Henry Bass and Lawrence Crum among its chief architects, and Victor met and interacted with these persons as well as Kenneth Gilbert and Ralph Goodman; the latter two were eventually to become Vic's colleagues at Penn State.

In 1989, the Penn State Graduate Program in Acoustics, under the Chairmanship of ASA member Jiri Tichy, became a formal department within the Penn State College of Engineering. One consequence of his departmental status was a search for a tenure-track assistant professor of acoustics, with the eventual result that Victor, shortly after completion of his thesis at Illinois, joined the faculty at Penn State in July 1990. Among his new associates was ASA member Gary Koopmann, the Director of the university's interdisciplinary Center of Acoustics and Vibration, and with which Vic soon became affiliated.

At Penn State, Victor quickly became involved in teaching and research. Allan Pierce, who had come to Penn State only two years earlier, and Sparrow began to collaborate on sonic boom propagation through the atmosphere with the support of NASA—Langley, and Vic eventually branched out to begin research on the nature of sonic booms below the ocean surface. Another project began shortly after his arrival at Penn State, also in collaboration with Pierce, was that of developing a theory of fuzzy structures, following up on some ideas that had been advanced by Christiaan Soize in France. Among the various papers and publications that resulted from Sparrow's efforts on this intriguing topic in structural acoustics was a doctoral thesis by Daniel Russell (presently an assistant professor at the GMI Engineering and Management Institute) and a M.S. thesis by Judith Rochat.

The application of computers to acoustics remains as one of Victor's dominant interests. His work on nonlinear propagation and reflection evolved after his arrival at Penn State into research on the development of lattice gas models for sound propagation, an activity which resulted in several papers as well as the successful supervision of a doctoral thesis by Yasushi Sudo. At Penn State. Victor introduced a regular graduate offering in computational acoustics, perhaps the first such course of its type in the U.S. An abbreviated version of this course has also become a popular component of the long-standing, month-long Penn State Summer Program in Acoustics, offered as part of its continuing education program. A related area of research interest is the question of just how does one effectively display the results of computation; a recent activity along such lines was Vic's organizing of a two session symposium on scientific visualization at the spring 1994 ASA meeting.

The Acoustical Society of America and the budding career of Victor Sparrow are now strongly intertwined. During his graduate student days, he managed to make at least one national meeting a year, even though on some occasions doing so necessitated paying out of pocket. Since fall 1989 he has attended and participated in every meeting. He currently serves on the Education Committee (for which he frequently organizes student poster sessions), the Physical Acoustics Technical Committee, the Committee on Women in Acoustics, and the Books+Committee, as well as having served as Vice-President and President of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter.