Amar Bose, Legendary MIT Acoustician, Dead at 83

I was sad to learn today that Amar Bose, the founder of Bose Corporation and an iconic figure at MIT, has passed away. He was 83.

Bose founded the company that bears his name in 1964, when he was a young professor at MIT. His research interests included acoustics, sound perception, electronics, nonlinear systems, communications, and loudspeaker design. He started Framingham, MA-based Bose Corporation with the simple goal of producing better-sounding stereo systems.

It was a different era back then. I don’t know all the details, but the company never took venture capital and it stayed privately held, with profits being reinvested into research and development. In fact, Bose Corporation might be one of the few examples of a bootstrapped billion-dollar tech company.

In any case, Bose Corporation became known for its speaker designs, which used different geometries and acoustic transmission schemes to produce what it called “lifelike sound” at the listener’s location. (One design issue has to do with room acoustics and the effects of reflections off walls as well as the direct wave from the speaker.)

Dr. Bose was an MIT “lifer,” doing his undergrad, master’s, and doctorate at the institute before becoming a professor there. He overlapped with my father on the MIT faculty in the 1960s and early ’70s. I know they were friendly and that Dr. Bose was a strong source of support.

Professor Bose was still teaching his legendary acoustics class at MIT by the time I was a grad student in the early ’90s. I regret that I never took it.

In 2011, Dr. Bose donated the majority of his company’s stock to MIT in the form of non-voting shares. The terms of the gift are that dividends from the shares will be used for education and research; MIT can’t sell them and won’t participate in management or governance of the company.

Bob Maresca, president of Bose Corporation, said in a statement that the company “will remain privately held, and stay true to Dr. Bose’s ideals” and his “guiding principles centered on research and innovation.”

MIT President L. Rafael Reif called Dr. Bose “a true giant who over decades enriched the Institute he loved with his energy, dedication, motivation and wisdom.” Reif added, “I have never known anyone like him. I will miss him. MIT will miss him. The world will miss him.”

The world, indeed.

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