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Internet pioneer dies at 102

Photo Credit: The National Science & Technology Medals Foundation

Leo Beranek accepts the National Medal of Science from President George W. Bush. (Photo credit: The National Science & Technology Medals Foundation)

Leo Beranek was an archetypal mild-mannered genius who never let on just how smart and accomplished he was. World renowned in music and audio engineering circles as one of the founding fathers of modern acoustic design and engineering, Beranek was also instrumental to something even more revolutionary: the internet.

The native of Solon, Iowa, passed away Oct. 10 at the age of 102, after a storied career designing concert halls and paving the way for readers to consume this story on computers and mobile devices rather than on printed paper.

Beranek gravitated towards the cutting-edge fields of electronics, radio and acoustics from an early age. He earned a Ph.D. in 1940 from Harvard University, where he taught and ran the electro-acoustics lab.

He later moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was cofounder of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, which was originally an acoustics consulting firm, but evolved into a defense contractor and eventually a subsidiary of Raytheon.

While at B.N.N., Beranek entered the emerging computer age and completed research projects for the Department of Defense and NASA.

"As president, I decided to take B.B.N. into the field of man-machine systems because I felt acoustics was a limited field and no one seemed to be offering consulting services in that area," Beranek told the New York Times in 2012.

He hired Dr. J.C.R. Licklider, who played a key role in developing early computer communications networks. That set B.B.N. on a path to build a project for the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1969. The same year that Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon and the Beatles gave their last live performance, the ARPANET was born.

"I never dreamed the internet would come into such widespread use, because the first users of the Arpanet were large mainframe computer owners," said Beranek in the New York Times interview.

Yet the internet did come into widespread use, and the author of Acoustics and Riding the Waves: A Life in Sound, Science, and Industry, helped set it all in motion.

So while you might have to travel to Tanglewood or Lincoln Center to hear Beranek’s work, you are quietly touched by him every day when you get online to watch cat videos or read stories about the passing of a great American scientist and innovator.

Posted by Sean D. Carberry on Oct 18, 2016 at 6:50 PM


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