The Top 100 Science Stories of 2006
A special report on the m...
More Features
Members/Subscribers Log In      
Photo of the day
The Top 8 Paleontology Stories of 2006
The Top 8 Earth Science Stories of 2006
The Top 6 Environment Stories of 2006
More Features
Top Science Story Poll Results 
Are We All Synesthetes? 
Save Your Shopping Relationship 
Horganism: Why the "Realists" Are Wrong About War 
Discover's Corey Powell on Science Friday 
25 Greatest Science Books of All-Time
The God Experiments
Before the Big Bang
20 Things You Didn't Know About... Lab Accidents
Vital Signs: Bugs Are Crawling In My Skin
Mind & Brain
Medicine
Space
Technology
Ancient Life
Environment
All Newsletters
   
Discover Magazine  Issues  oct-04  departments  Discover Dialogue: Amar G. Bose
Discover Dialogue: Amar G. Bose
The Maestro of Acoustics Makes Waves
�Research in this country is going down . . . The quickest way to save your bottom line is to cut research�
By Brad Lemley
DISCOVER Vol. 25 No. 10 | October 2004 | Technology

Photograph by Bob O�Connor

Amar G. Bose, 74, founder, owner, and chairman of the Bose Corporation, rocked the automotive world in August by unveiling a suspension system that could make all others obsolete. It uses computer-controlled electric motors to effectively cancel a road�s bumps and dips, giving occupants a glass-smooth ride. The system, more than two decades in development, is expected to show up on cars within four years. It may seem like an unlikely breakthrough from what many regard as a high-end speaker company, but since its founding in 1964, Bose has conquered science and engineering challenges in a variety of fields. The company, which employs 8,000 people, reflects its maverick founder and offers a unique model for revitalizing American corporate research and development. Bose was a professor of electrical engineering at MIT for 45 years.

Your father was from Calcutta and was a vocal opponent of British rule in India. When did he come to the United States?

B: He arrived at Ellis Island in 1920 with five dollars in his pocket.

Your mother was American. Was your upbringing more Indian or American?

B:  We had a small house in suburban Philadelphia, and Indian people would come stay with us for days, weeks, or months. The food we ate was Indian, and both my mother and father were very deep into the ancient philosophy of India, so it could well have been an Indian household. There were challenges. The prejudice was so bad in the United States at that time that a dark person with a white person would not be served in a restaurant. My father, mother, and I would try it occasionally. We would sit there, and the food would never come. My father would ask for the manager. He would pretend to be an African American because the prejudice was against them, not Indians. He would say in a quiet voice: �I notice that we are good enough to earn money to cook the food, good enough to earn money serving the food, good enough to give our lives in the war for our country. Could you explain to me why it is that we are not good enough to pay money and eat the food?� When he spoke in a quiet voice like that, everyone in the whole restaurant would fall silent, too, and listen to it. Then he would say to my mother and me, �It is time for us to go.�

You admired him?

B: Yes. He lectured from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., for 15 years for the Indian underground movement, describing the atrocities he had seen under British rule in India that were not unlike those in Nazi Germany.

When did you get into electronics?

B: I joined the Boy Scouts when I was 12. One of the other scouts had a radio transmitter. I learned that if I correlated the parts in the transmitter with a diagram, I could learn to read schematic drawings. At 13, I realized that I could fix anything electronic. It was amazing, I could just do it. I started a business repairing radios. It grew to be one of the largest in Philadelphia.

When you went to MIT to study electrical engineering in 1947, what was your goal?

B: I really wanted to do research. That has never changed.

When did you get into acoustics and speaker design?

B: I had studied violin from age 7 to 14. I loved music, and in my ninth year at MIT, I decided to buy a hi-fi set. I figured that all I needed to do was look at the specifications. So I bought what looked like the best one, turned it on, and turned it off in five minutes, the sound was so poor. I was so curious to find out why. In the spring of 1956, I went to India to teach on a Fulbright scholarship, and I read about acoustics at night. In a concert hall, only a tiny bit of the sound comes to you directly; most of it arrives after many reflections from the surfaces of the room. Only about 2 percent of the sound is absorbed with each reflection, so there are many, many reflections. Yet people had been designing loudspeakers that only radiate forward. We did experiments with the Boston Symphony for many years where we measured the angles of incidence of sound arriving at the ears of the audience, then took the measurements back to MIT and analyzed them.

When you started your company in 1964, was your intention to do research?

B: Yes. That�s still the case. One hundred percent of our earnings are reinvested in the company, and a great deal of that goes to research.

Did you have lean times because of that commitment?

B: Sure. There were a couple of times when we were within two weeks of being nonexistent. We passed narrowly over the fire.

Couldn�t you have survived by going public?

B: Yes, but that would have destroyed everything.

You would rather have let the company die than go public?

B: Yes. There was a time when I was wondering about this business of going public, so I visited about a half-dozen companies in the Boston area, all of them formed by MIT faculty and all had gone public. Every one of those CEOs said: �If only we had known the consequences, we never would have gone public. We are spending two-thirds of our time on image building to keep the stock price up.�


Article continues... Pages:   1  2
 
  
Save Your Shopping Relationship
Why Fathers Know Best
Rethinking the Conscious Mind
Fuzzy Math: Million-Dollar Chess Match
Are We All Synesthetes?
Raw Data: Is Cancer the Price of Longevity?
What Ever Happened to Crack Babies?
How Good Genes Go Bad
Vital Signs: Bugs Are Crawling In My Skin
Genetic Bar Codes
One Giant Step for a Small, Crowded Country
World's Biggest Binoculars
Did Life Begin In Space?
The Einstein Dilemma
Map: Space Junk
Good News For Light Sleepers
Jaron's World: Digital Maoism Revisited
How to Build an Invisibility Cloak
Faster, Sleeker, Smaller
Map: What Does the Internet Look Like?
When All Whales Were Killers
Pyramid Building Saps the Soul
Move Over, T. Rex
Jaron's World: Frozen in Time
Central Asia's Lost Civilization
Global Warming Sinks
Natural Selections: Life After the Wave
Natural Selections: Roaming Free in the DMZ
No Fish by 2050
Earth's Before and After Pics
  Full access to all site content requires registration as a magazine subscriber.
� 2005 Discover Media LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Privacy Policy / Your California Privacy Rights | Terms and Conditions | Educator's Guide | Subscribe Online Today | Online Media Kit
Customer Care | Contact Us