Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Fall 2017 - 34
"... THERE IS NO EQUIVALENT (TO RENSSELAER'S ARCHITECTURAL
ACOUSTICS PROGRAM) IN NORTH AMERICA-AT A TIME WHEN DESIGNING
BUILDINGS THAT MAXIMIZE SOUND QUALITY IS GAINING PROMINENCE."
NING XIANG, DIRECTOR, ARCHITECTURAL ACOUSTICS GRADUATE PROGRAM
venues. Rensselaer graduates also help boost the productivity
of people in health-care, education, and workplace settings
by assuring they hear the critical information-and not the
unwelcome, distracting noises.
The students, many of them accomplished musicians, have
backgrounds in engineering, architecture, physics, computer
science, and recording engineering. They may choose a one-year
master's degree or pursue a Ph.D.-a pathway to industry as well
as research. All leave with an expertise that is in great demand.
"What I'm most proud of is that our graduates find jobs in an
area they love that is meaningful," says Jonas Braasch, an associate
professor of architecture who has doctorates in both musicology
and electrical engineering. "They are able to do what they want
without giving up their passion for music. And they have a job
that is useful for society."
At Rensselaer, Case, who earned his master's in 2003, delved
into the process of making music, from composition to performing,
recording, and listening. He immersed himself in understanding
the modifications, obfuscations, distortions, and delays that shape
sound in any space.
Today, Case is an associate professor of sound recording at
the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He presents widely on the
future of recorded music as digital technology advances.
"In the next five or 10 years I think we'll see processes that are
mind-blowing," says Case, recently elected president of the Audio
Engineering Society. "We'll be able to use the recording studio not
just to record, but as an ever-more-capable musical instrument."
Guthrie, who wanted to deepen her theoretical understanding
of acoustics, remained for her Ph.D., devoting her dissertation
to how a musician's perception of sound onstage affects the
Today, Guthrie is an acoustics and audiovisual consultant at
Arup, a global engineering, planning, design, and consulting firm.
Recently, she worked on the acoustical and audiovisual design of
an opera theater at the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural
Center in Athens, Greece. And she advised on sound isolation
during renovations to the historic Cincinnati Union Terminal.
Guthrie also works on schools.
"If you're in a classroom with a lot of reverberation and not
a lot of absorbing materials, the sound is muddy and it's hard to
learn," says Guthrie. "When we improve the quality, it feels really
good because we are improving lives."
Markham came to Rensselaer after graduating from Princeton
and joining Acentech, a leading acoustical consulting firm. He
focused on computer modeling sound, earning his master's in
architectural acoustics in 2008.
34 RensselaeR/ Fall 2017
Markham now heads Acentech's architectural acoustics group.
His projects have included the Barker Engineering Library at
MIT, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Peter B. Lewis
Science Library at Princeton. He relies on computer modeling to
show architects and building users the acoustical implications of
"If an architect can put on goggles and turn his head and see
a 3-D simulation, why shouldn't we be able to have the same
experience with how a room will sound?" he says. "RPI is one of a
small number of programs pushing the boundaries at an academic
level of what is possible."
istorically, in the United States, concerns about
sound quality were left to composers, who wrote
works to suit a given venue. That changed-
and the field known as architectural acoustics
was recognized-in the late 19th century, after
Wallace Clement Sabine, a young Harvard physics professor, was
assigned to turn around the abysmal acoustics of the university's
Fogg Lecture Hall.
Sabine conducted experiments comparing the hall to a theater
with excellent sound. He timed sound decay, with and without
rugs and seat cushions. Sabine ultimately devised a formula, still
used today, establishing a relationship between reverberation
time, room volume, and surface absorption. He added absorbing
materials and improved sound clarity at the Fogg Lecture Hall.
Sabine gained fame as acoustical consultant for Boston's
Symphony Hall and a dean at Harvard. Students began earning
Ph.D.s in acoustics, and universities, including Rensselaer,
introduced courses in noise control.
Rensselaer's graduate architectural acoustics program was
introduced by Christopher Jaffe '49, a chemical engineering
major. Jaffe became an acclaimed acoustician and inventor-and
Wallace Clement Sabine Medal winner-whose projects included