Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Ilene Busch-Vishniac has established a career focused on the goal
of mastering sound-both clarifying sounds that people want to hear and quelling
sounds that they don't.
Busch-Vishniac said that her parents had hoped she would become a lawyer.
Instead, she entered college as a music major, studying piano at the
Eastman School of Music and taking academic classes at the University
of Rochester. After one semester she realized that she didn't possess the
talent or the drive she thought she needed to become a successful performer.
But she had taken a freshman seminar called physics of music that got her interested
in acoustics. So in her second semester, she switched her major to physics and
After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester,
Busch-Vishniac headed to MIT where she continued
to study acoustics and earned master's (1978) and doctoral (1981) degrees in
mechanical engineering. As a graduate student, she developed computer tools
for studying problem noise in the suburbs and investigated how to produce quieter
impact line computer printers.
Soon after, Busch-Vishniac worked as a post-doc and researcher at Bell
Labs. There she developed devices for microphones and earphones and improved
conference calling systems to eliminate echo that some speakers can have. She
has several patents on her technology.
In 1982, Busch-Vishniac joined the faculty at the
University of Texas at Austin and was later named Temple Professor of Mechanical
Engineering. At Austin, she started to work on ways to reduce the level of noise
that comes from transportation. She has also investigated methods of building
more effective, less expensive highway sound barriers. The solution, she said,
appears to lie in the geometric design of the barrier, not in its composition.
Later, in 1998, Busch-Vishniac went to work as Dean of Engineering at Johns
Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering in Baltimore where she
continues to work today. There Busch-Vishniac continues to focus her research
interests on the highway noise barriers that are built to spare local residents
the disturbance of freeway traffic. Existing barriers have had mixed success
because it is nearly impossible to gage a design's sound-absorbing properties
until it's actually been installed alongside a roadway--at a cost of 1 to 2
million dollars a mile. Busch-Vishniac and her collaborators believe they've
found a solution to the problem in randomly varying the height of the barriers,
which in effect breaks up the sound waves.
Just twenty years after she first launched her career, Busch-Vishniac is counted
among the world's leading authorities on electromechanical sensors and actuators.
(These devices convert mechanical energy--such as sound waves--to electrical
signals, and vice versa, much as it happens at either end of a telephone line.)
She has collected a number of honors and awards for her work. In 1997, she won
the Society of Women Engineers' Achievement Award. In 1995 she was named a National
Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator. She was recipient in 1987
of The Acoustical Society of America's Lindsay Award, and in 1995, she was recipient
of the American Society of Engineering Education's Curtis McGraw Research Award.