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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Paul Schomer by Richard Peppin on June 16, 2020,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview, Paul Schomer of Schomer and Associates is interviewed by Rich Peppin of the Acoustical Society of America. Schomer discusses his family and childhood; his graduate education at UC Berkeley; his history with the Acoustical Society of America; and the changing relationships between the ASA and researchers in government, industry, the military, and academia.
I'm retired, finally.
Okay. Are you doing any business at all under your consulting?
I have one tiny job that I may or may not ever get paid.
What's the name of that? Schomer Associates?
Yeah. It used to be Incorporated. That ended about a year ago.
Yeah, mine did, too. Now, a bunch of Acoustical Society questions. What year did you join ASA?
Wow, early. How old were you, and what were you doing at the time?
I was working on my PhD, and I guess I would have been -- let's see, 25.
Were you in any special area of acoustics, any interest in it?
Yeah, I was working in architectural acoustics and noise at the time.
What were your reasons for joining ASA?
I was giving a paper.
Yeah, there was a paper. I was working on my PhD, and it dealt with the PhD.
Okay, good. How did you know about ASA? Did anybody encourage you to join?
I don't recall, but I knew about it.
What ASA committees were you or are you a member of?
I participated in architectural and noise, I think, at the time. I didn't find it very stimulating at that time.
Did you have any positions at ASA? Did you hold any chairs, or anything like that?
Oh, always. I'm sorry, I was still on 1968.
Oh, okay. No, from then on. So, let's go back. So, what committees were you a member of, and are you a member of?
Noise and architectural acoustics.
Did you hold any positions in ASA?
Yeah, the main position I was the Standards Director for about 14 years, I think.
Wow. Who was the standards manager at that time
Avril Brenig had just retired some months earlier, and Susan Blaeser was hired to replace Avril.
Now, are you any part of ASA, as a chair, or anything like that?
I'm the past Standards Director.
Okay, good. Were there any meetings at ASA that you really thought were outstanding?
I think the 75th anniversary comes to mind.
I don't even remember that. Where was that? Do you remember?
I think it was in the New York area.
I was there, but I can't remember much.
I don't remember places, but they are all more or less the same. They're a hotel with rooms and meeting rooms.
Right. They're all the same in that way. Were there any ASA members that you met that influenced your future?
The one who influenced my future most, who I talked about at the service award was Henning von Gierke
How did you get to meet him? From ASA?
Not precisely. Henning was the head of all environmental noise research conducted by the Air Force. I had recently attained my Ph.D. and had taken a position as head of environmental noise research conducted by the Army, and I was setting up a Laboratory and was starting all the research for Army noise.
I got that. And Henning was involved at ASA as well as you were.
Oh, yes, and also the National Academy of Science. This was a first report on assessing aircraft noise, and this was shortly after the levels document was promulgated. --
EPA Levels Document, right.
And the criteria for environmental noise using LDN and using 55 dB as the criteria. I was there to tell them, "You can't use A-weighting for impulse noise, sonic boom, or Army artillery, or tanks, or stuff like that. You have to use something like C-weighting and shift the criteria through this." I went to his laboratory to tell them. I was just out of school. I had my PhD for three months at the time, and had been working at the Army for about two months, and I came to tell them that what they had done for the levels document and the criteria -- I mean, his laboratory was the one that wrote all of that -- I had to tell him that he missed the boat there, and luckily I convinced him.
Wow. We'll get to the professional part in a minute.
And another ASA person was Bob Young.
Bob Young, too?
Bob Young was involved. He was the one who really thought it was -- it was his religion that we only use A weighting.
Wow. Alright, good.
I didn't convince him, but we more-or-less reached a truce .
Uh huh. Well, Bob Young was a big "macher" in acoustics, and you were a young punk, right?
Well, I guess I was young. I don't know if I was a punk or not.
Okay. Is there anything you'd like to say about ASA as far as the past, or present, or future? As far as where it was, or where you think it should go, or anything like that?
I think where it was is where it should be, and where it's going is where it shouldn't be.
ASA used to be an organization that was kind of equally into research in universities, and research in government laboratories, and research in private laboratories, and at least in noise and architecture, general consulting. So, it was kind of like four hats, and they were more or less equal. When the society was founded, you had things like Bell Labs, which was private, doing a lot of work in acoustics. And you had universities, I'm thinking about Harvard, MIT, and out west in California. You had that group. And then you had some government labs, like Air Force Lab. So, you had that group, and you had universities. And you had consultants, like BBN. I said universities twice. BBN and the like. There were four, kind of almost equal partners, if you think about it, between Bell Labs and Air Force Lab, and MIT, and BBN.
Right, and all of the workers in those places contributed to ASA in a lot of ways.
In a lot of ways, and with different perspectives. I think ASA has one fourth the breadth they had before.
Now, it's what? University?
I agree with you.
Everyone else is a second- class citizen.
I agree, yeah.
I think this has been very bad for the society. When I was Standards Director, I tried to convince one president after another that hey, this is a problem. They'd say, "Yeah, it's a problem. We've got to work on that." I went as far as to tell them, "You need to make quotas for how many directors are from what area." They thought, no, it's not that kind of a problem. It's not a problem. It's systemic bias, just like other systemic biases in this country.
Isn't it true, more or less, if I remember right, that most presidents came from universities?
I would say that in the past 20 to 25 years, out of a board membership of about 15 members typically, one is not from a university. In terms of presidents, I can't think of any in recent years that haven't been university, or government laboratory associated with the university. It's not good.
I agree with you.
If you look at the noise committee, and other committees, there's no silver medals or gold medals to anyone but a university.
Right, and I'll tell you something interesting when we finish about this interview process. Well, I'll tell you now. One of the criteria for the interview process, and I don't think you meet it, or most of the people I've interviewed don't meet it, they have to have a gold medal in acoustics. You know, the ASA award. So, it's based more or less on, not only, but on university kind of people.
That's what's going on entirely. If you look in the noise committee, Sandy Fidel has many, many publications. More publications than probably anybody in the university working in noise. He doesn't have a noise medal, and I have probably the same number of publications, or maybe even a bit more than Sandy. I'm very disappointed in ASA the way it's continued to move just down university lines. They're all fat and happy, but it's not good for the society. It's not been good.
I hear you. Alright, well, it's good that you say that. I agree with you, and this transcript, by the way, will be recorded. You'll get a chance to review it before it goes anywhere, but I agree, and I'm glad we're both in agreement on that. Well, let me move from ASA. What other professional organizations do you belong to, or did you?
Mainly just INCE (Institute of Noise Control Engineering).
INCE, right. And you had a position there, pretty high up, right?
For a short time.
You were president, right?
No, I wasn't president.
What were you?
Oh, that's right. That was a political thing about the ending of that.
That was a very strange ending. I don't want to go into names.
I know what you mean. I hear you.
It was very unusual protocol. It brings me to mind the way the society dumped Charles. I was totally against it, and I thought again, this was an example of university leaders not knowing how to handle problems.
You mean Charles Schmid?
Oh, I didn't know that happened.
Oh, yes. It happened.
Wow. You'll tell me about that when we meet again. I'd like to hear.
I was probably the only one that would sit in a board meeting and stand up to the forces that were successful in pushing him out.
Wow. Holy crow.
I thought that it was terrible for the society. It (The Society)- golden nugget in Charles. Somebody who was well respected in acoustics, very easy-going, could handle any situation, except people out to get him.
Of course. Wow. Well, let's go over that when we meet, which I hope we do sometime soon.
I don't know if we will, but okay.
Now some past history. When and where were you born? Note: I forgot to mention during the interview that I had been a member of DEGA and through it the EAA since about 1990. I have not been particularly active in either, but I feel that even minimal membership is important for relations between the ASA and the societies from other countries or regions. (Rich. Do you want to maybe include this?)
Born April 20, 1943, in Chicago.
Oh, so you're younger than me. Good. Good to hear.
How much younger?
About 3 months.
Well, you're just an old fart.
Yeah. Hey, so before and during college, where were some of the places you lived?
Just Chicago. Same address since I was two years old. Now, that's not the address, but it was while I was -- practically until we were married, I think, or maybe after we were married.
What were your parents' occupations?
My mother was a housewife.
That's normal, yeah.
It was typical of women in those days. And my father had his own business. He sold sandwiches to bowling alleys and taverns, and loaned them an infrared oven that they were heated in. He'd sell these sandwiches (at wholesale to the bar owner, etc.) and (the bar staff would sell them at retail) to customers of the bar. He had to leave school after the 8th grade to help support the family. He never got even to high school, but he was very intelligent, and very good at mathematics. Just you weren't allowed to do it in those days.
Right. Did you know at that time, any time, what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I think I wanted to be an engineer from about age 6.
And you did it.
My grandson, when he was in the beginning of nursery school, they were asking the kids what they want to do when they grow up, and they said policemen, firemen, whatever. He comes up with, "I want to design rockets." Not to go on rockets, but to design them.
It runs in the family. Holy crow. So, before college, what were your hobbies and interests, and stuff like that?
I always was interested in mainly electronics. I was an amateur radio operator. I think I got my novice license when I was about 10 or 11. I got my first class-license when I was 13. I just had my laboratory in the basement with the amateur radio stuff, and I would just do different things. Lucky I didn't kill myself. I can remember playing with mercury from a thermometer.
I did that, too. I did that.
And I had lots of burns from a soldering iron, and shocks from electricity. I remember in high school; I was trying to build an X-ray machine. I wanted to use a tesla coil to provide the high voltage that when applied to an old, coated vacuum tube, might produce X-rays.
That's pretty advanced for a kid.
I wasn't able to make the tesla coil work well.
Were there any people or persons during that frame that influenced you a lot?
No. Nobody knew anything about what I was doing. My mother and father had no idea. My brother had no idea what I was doing. And I'm not sure I had much of an idea of what I was doing.
What were your parents’ names, and your brother's name?
My mother was Jeanette, or Jean, my father was Harold, and my brother was Fred. Elder brother, interested in -- well, he became a lawyer and an MBA. So, that's not the same interest as me.
Yeah, I can see. Alright, good. So, college time now. Where did you first go to college, and what was your major?
I went to the University of Illinois, other than some junior college while I was in high school, you know, a couple of classes. But then I went to the University of Illinois and had a degree in electrical engineering. And then I went to Berkeley for a master's degree in electrical engineering, but I specialized in acoustics.
This is at UC Berkeley?
Yes. Then I went back to Illinois for a PhD, again, electrical engineering and acoustics.
Did you go straight, or did you work in between those times?
I went straight. I had this choice of going straight to a PhD, or straight to Vietnam.
Right. I got you. During college years, were there some influential people that you got involved with?
Well, other than -- I'm trying to remember my advisor's name at Berkeley. I don't remember names anymore, really well. He was a long-time member of the acoustics community. The advisor of my master's degree was a follow up of a PhD I think by George (Wilson) on the west coast -- the guy with all the railroad noise.
George, that guy. I forgot his last name. That guy with the last name. Yeah.
With the last name [Wilson].
We'll think of it when we get the transcript.
Yeah, right. Okay, good.
I think it was he who had done the work on what was essentially sound refraction by finite depth apertures. He had done his PhD work, and I did some follow-on work for my master's degree. Walter Soroka was the professor’s name.
This is at Berkeley, now?
This is at Berkeley. I have to tell you this story. You wanted to know how I got to [know] Soroka. I had worked during some of my college years as a camp counselor at summer camp that my wife-to-be, at the time, was involved in. At one point, they wanted to put in an outdoor P.A. system in the camp, and they asked me what to do. I didn't know much about it, but I needed to know something about sound propagation outdoors. I talked to professors in electrical engineering, and nobody knew anything about it. I just kind of tucked that in the back of my mind, and I went out to Berkeley with no particular area in mind of electrical engineering. I looked at all the professors, and here was one who listed his specialty as acoustics. I said, "Hey, that sounds interesting. Nobody knew anything about it. I think I'll talk to him." That's how I came to be in acoustics.
Wow. Why did you decide on Berkeley?
I just always wanted to go there.
To Berkeley, or to California, or both?
Mainly to Berkeley.
Did you ever do anything like rallies or protests, or anything like that, in school?
I observed them. I was there in '65 and '66, and it was just a time of protests, and a time of free speech movement at Berkeley. There was a good reason why the students on campus were very upset. Berkeley took the attitude, at least at that time, that “we're so big that we can't manage ourselves”, which is kind of a funny attitude. I give people a couple examples. When I got out to Berkeley, I was going to be a teaching assistant, and I didn't receive any information about how I register, when I would be teaching classes so I could register around them. What do I do? So, I went and talked to the associate head of the department for graduate affairs, and he said, "It's too complicated. We haven't written it down. Talk to another student." Well, that's pretty silly. The only one that helped me was a visiting professor from the University of Illinois. To give you another kind of example, a friend of mine went in to get a transcript, and he was told, "We're not busy now, but it normally takes two weeks, so that's what it'll take."
Two weeks to do what?
To get a transcript. They tell him, "We're not busy now, but it takes two weeks."
Wow. So, in Berkeley, you were a teaching assistant. What about in Chicago for both undergraduate and PhD? How did you earn money, or how did you get supported?
It's not Chicago, it's Champaign. My undergraduate, my parents were able to help with, but at this point in time, tuition wasn't high. I thought at the time that in several years it would go zero. Instead, it went the other way. So, that's the story of my life on predicting things. I can predict acoustical things, scientific things from very little data. I can have all the data in the world on economic things, and I'll make the exactly wrong decision every time.
Uh huh. Hey, do you hear a clicking in the background?
Yeah, that's just my leg shaking.
Okay, okay. Moving on now. Let's see.
The master's degree was in teaching, and I don't think I did a research assistantship.
What was the master's thesis on?
That was the same thing. Sound refraction by finite depth apertures. I really was looking at the issue of if you have a small hole in your transmitting area, like leakage around a door or window, how to solve that analytically. That's what it was geared towards.
Was that your doctorate thesis, too?
No, no, no. I'll come back to it. Anyway, about the master's with Soroka (?), he was really in the department of -- I'm thinking fluid mechanics, or mechanical engineering. Somewhere more in that area. If I had gotten a PhD at Berkeley, I would have had to have gotten many of the courses, undergraduate and graduate courses, in that area to go on.
Is that why you switched? That's why you went back?
Yes, this is why I went back to University of Illinois [00:28:38]. Interestingly, the dean of the College of Engineering was Dean Everett. Head of the electrical engineering department was Ed Jordan. Ed Jordan was a big person in antennas and radiation. Very famous, and Everett was very famous in his own right. Both of them, electrical engineering. Jordan did his PhD thesis under Everett, and his PhD thesis was modeling -- I'm trying to think. What was high frequency, at the time, a few hundred megahertz, using acoustic transmission line to model the electromagnetics. So, Jordan did the thesis for Everett, both working on acoustics, essentially, to model electromagnetics.
What was your PhD thesis on?
My PhD thesis, I worked with BBN one summer in Chicago, in an office that was run by George Kamperman. He got Dick Bolt to suggest a thesis topic. Dick Bolt was well known in Illinois, because he had been a professor of physics, which is also in Illinois in the department of engineering. So, Dick Bolt was the one who put together my PhD thesis topic. It was a problem of how to measure or predict transmission loss in an office with partial height barriers and the like. What is the name of the instrument that does the reverberation and like measurements I can't even remember the name right now.
The name of the instrument?
I don't know.
Well, the reason I'm saying that, there was a fellow -- I can't remember the name, or anything. I never bothered with it. Unknown to most people, I came up with practical methodology and procedures to measure the impulse response between any combination/pair of source and receiver positions in a space. About a decade after my paper is JASA someone (can’t remember the name) patented and sold instrumentation and procedures to measure the impulse response between a source and receiver positions. Essentially, one is using the cross correlations of white noise to measure the impulse response system. This is done using loudspeaker, and microphones, white noise, and a correlator. I had done the entire thing he patented, and later built a company on and sold to a lot of architectural acoustic firms, what I did without any attributions, as far as I know.
Who was the guy that did that?
I can't remember the name.
Alright. We can think of it later. No rush.
That was widely used -- is widely used. But most people think he did it. And maybe he did. I don't know that he didn't find my paper in JASA from ten years earlier.
Right. You didn't get any attributions for that.
Didn't get any attribution. It was a major development in architectural acoustics.
Note: I just learned today, July 26, 2020, of two other well-known acousticians, who were trying to construct a viable correlator in order to implement this application of linear system theory. All three of us tried but failed to construct a viable digital correlator in about the 1968 time frame, all for nearly the same purpose. At about that time HP came out with a digital correlator for about $4000. David Lubman could not afford one and Ted Schultz could not afford one either, but fortunately for me, my advisor could.
Did you do anything in the military? Did you get in the military at all?
Well, my research for 30 years was in Army environmental noise.
Yeah. I mean, as far as the Army itself, or the Navy. I mean, fighting. Troops.
No, no, no.
How did you get out of it?
Well, if you were in school, you were deferred while you were in school.
Right, student deferment.
Then, after school, it depended upon your lottery number.
Right. Me, too.
And if you were married or not, if you had children or not. I had number 346. I was married and had one child when I graduated from PhD. That was sufficient to not worry about it.
It's interesting. I was number 285, and I got out of it. I was out, so I was lucky, too.
Yeah, mine was 346. You couldn't get too much higher. Were you married?
Yes. I was married at the time, too. But it didn't matter, of course. It didn't matter.
Well, you were roughly in the same situation I was.
Yeah, yeah, right.
Then, of course, I took a job right after college with the Army.
Oh, so that Army job was right after school?
Wow, so you were there a long time.
I was there 30 years and a day.
Holy crow. Wow. That's incredible. When you got there, what were you? Like, a GS number, or something? A GS-7, or something like that?
Well, I started out, I think, as a GS-12.
What was your title when you joined?
Who? Say again?
When you left, you mean? That's when you left.
Did you have a title, like Chief Acoustics Officer, or something like that?
Well, no. This was the Civil Service, and like most of these things, Civil Service is a game of magic words that people interpret to mean a certain thing. You just have to know the rules of the game. It's nothing that makes any sense. I headed the research program for most of the time I was there. We had a pretty good research program for many years, the order of a couple million dollars a year.
Did you have people working for you?
Yeah, after a few years. People you know that worked for me would be Rich RASPET, Mike White and what's our president's name?
Victor got a PhD in my lab.
Oh, wow. Wow. That's amazing.
There were others who aren’t after the ASA, but there was Brian Homans who's been the head of Shiner Acoustics in Chicago.
Right. Now, I know you wrote a lot of publications, JASA articles -- JASA papers and stuff. Any books or anything like that?
No. I have chapters in a couple of books. I think electroacoustics -- I can't remember which book it is. It's a handbook of some kind. Then there's a handbook that has environmental noise in one chapter.
I've read a lot of your papers and chapters. Pretty impressive. Alright, tell me about your family. What's your present marital status?
Okay, and your spouse's name?
Does she work or is she retired?
She still does real estate management, a little.
Where did you meet her?
I met her in a Jewish youth group thing. It was a camp, and other things.
Was that in Chicago?
That was in Chicago.
When did you get married?
Married in November of '66.
And your kids? Do you have kids, or just one?
We have Beth, born in 1970, and Jeffrey born in 1974.
And they have kids, too. Is that what you said, that you have grandkids.
Beth has two children. Russell, the one that wants to design rocket ships, and Madeleine.. Russell will be a freshman, and Madeleine is going to be a senior in high school.
That's your son's kids?
Your daughter's kids. Beth's?
Beth's kids, okay. Where do they live?
Jeffrey lives in Chicago, and the Millers, Madeline and Scott, and the kids, live in the valley part of Los Angeles.
Do you get to see them much?
Up until the last few months, yeah.
Good, good. Great. Now, just a couple more things and then we're done. Personal interests. Name your favorite authors or books.
I don't think I have a favorite author.
Okay. What's your favorite form of entertainment?
I really like doing acoustics better than anything else.
Wow. That's pretty good. Into any sports?
I've done a lot. Not organized sports. But most of the time I worked in acoustics, which I really liked. For example, I've had students work in my laboratory for me for 50-something years now. During that time, I was part of a group doing the noise regulations for the state of Illinois.
I remember that. Wasn't Illinois one of the forefront states that were doing noise at the time?
Yeah. It was interesting, there were four people that were on this committee from the University of Illinois working for the state. Two professors of law, a professor of economics, and a graduate student in electrical engineering, me. We were defending the regulations that were being enacted, the technical part.
I remember that.
It was many, many days of consulting. What was really neat was the three professors shared -- I got the same salary as they did for the consulting, which at the time was $125 a day.
It sounds like a lot of money. Now, was this when you were a graduate student?
It was right through my graduate thesis. There were three professors and me, and I had the whole technical responsibility.
Wow. Well, you did a good job, it turns out. It was a really good job. Speaking of, what made you leave the standards director?
Really, Parkinson's disease.
Oh, okay. Was it hard to maintain the workload, or whatever it was?
I just couldn't quite do it anymore.
Oh, okay. Do you have any future plans? For us old people, it's hard to say.
I'd like to be around for my grandson's high school graduation.
Right, I know what you mean. Alright, we're almost at the end. Do you want to add anything more about you, or anything, or the society, or whatever?
Well, it's just what we talked about. I'd like the society to go back to its roots some. We don't have private laboratories, like Bell Labs had a private lab in those days. But you have the government laboratory, and consultants, and the university. Those three should be equal partners.
Of course. Did you do anything with Aberdeen?
I did stuff with virtually every Army base. Aberdeen, you're talking about the environmental hygiene --
Yeah, right. That was it.
Of course, we worked closely with them. We've also used Aberdeen for a place for doing source measurements and propagation. Or source studies, where we measured the directivity of new weapon systems -- the emissions and directivity. What comes to mind is the main gun on the Abrams tank, a 120 mm tank gun that we measured the acoustical data for this gun, and for many other types of guns and helicopters.
Did you work with Felix Sachs?
Yeah, Felix was mainly in audiometry, or hearing. We didn't do anything in that area, so I didn't work with Felix Sachs, but some of the other people -- George Luz and a couple other people who worked mainly in environmental noise. It was kind of like they did the contours and assessment at the installations, and we did the development of the methods.
Did you know Roger Heymann?
Roger, yeah. I knew Roger. He was one of the people in environmental noise.
He was my roommate when we first got out of college, a long time ago.
Well, I think that's about it. Do you want to mention anything? Let me go back and just say that what's going to happen now is this recording, this file, is going go to AIP. They're going to transcribe it, and they're going to send it to me. I'll mark it up, and I'll send it to you, and you can mark it up, or delete, or add whatever you want. That'll take a couple weeks, probably, at least.
Interesting that you asked if I did anything with the Army, because we did a whole lot -- oh, I remember. I was also a member of the European Acoustical Association and DAGA.
Oh, yeah. Wow. Well, it'll be typed up, but we'll put that in the beginning where we talked about associations and stuff.
I should say that I did this because we did half our research, almost, in Germany. At the time we were doing this, 40% of the U.S. Army was stationed in Europe. It was an interesting time to go there and visit.
Oh, yeah. I bet. That's nice. Okay. So, I think we're done. I hope I get to see you sometime. Maybe ASA will be in Chicago in December.
I was all set to come to Chicago in June, or May, or whenever the --
Me, too. Me, too.
I was ready to come. I had two abstracts in, and I was rearing to go.
Alright. Well, maybe I'll see you in the fall, or winter, whenever it is.
If it's in Chicago, I'll try to be there.
That'd be great.
Other than Chicago, it's got to be like St. Louis, or Indianapolis. Somewhere close.
Alright, I think we're done for now, Paul. Let's keep in touch, okay?
Okay, wonderful to talk to you, as always.
Thank you very much for taking the time and doing this.
This will be nice. You'll see. Bye-bye.