Passing of Prof. Cyril M. Harris

January 12, 2010

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 there??!!!".

Prof. Harris personified the ideal combination of real-world achievement and warm commitment to his students and to our educational goals.  He is sorely missed.