Passing of Prof. Cyril M. Harris
It is with great sadness we note the passing of Professor Cyril M. Harris on January 4th, 2011, aged 93.
Prof. Harris taught at the Columbia Department of Electrical Engineering
from 1952 until his retirement. Prof. Anastassiou has this recollection:
When I first joined the department in 1983, I vividly remember
how everyone referred to Cyril as "the most famous among our
colleagues, by far." As I got to know him better, what made a
lasting impression on me was how modest and friendly he was,
despite his celebrity. He was always cheerful and helpful to
everybody and he will be remembered for his quiet genius and warm
personality in addition to his achievements.
Prof. Harris was a leading authority acoustics engineering. He
authored a number of standard references, including the Shock and
Vibration Handbook, first published in 1961, and which was renamed
Harris's Shock and Vibration Handbook for its fifth edition in 2002.
He was well-known far beyond engineering as the acoustic consultant for
a number of very high-profile concert halls, including the renovation of
Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in the mid 1970s. The hall had been
notorious for its poor acoustics since its opening in 1962; Prof.
Harris's renovation was recognized by critics as converting it to one of
the finest acoustic spaces in the world. Prof. Harris went on to work
on many other major concert spaces in Washington, Seattle, Minneapolis,
St. Louis, and Salt Lake City.
A picture of Prof. Harris conducting acoustic measurements in Columbia's
St. Paul's Chapel hangs on the department wall. Dr. Perry Malouf, one of
the students in the picture who is now with the Applied Physics Laboratory
of Johns Hopkins University, recalls it being taken in 1982:
We were measuring reverberation time in different octaves. The
noise source was the acoustic equivalent of a delta function:
a blank shotgun shell fired from a polished chrome cannon. So one
noise source contained energy over a very wide spectrum, which was
perfect for our purpose.
Well, it turned out that the word didn't make it to everyone on the
security detail. After a couple of shots, security officers were
banging on the (locked) chapel doors yelling "what's going on in
Prof. Harris personified the ideal combination of real-world achievement
and warm commitment to his students and to our educational goals. He is