Thursday, May 29, 2008

A sound achievement: Bose inducted into Inventors Hall of Fame

Driving uphill to the 500,000-square-foot glass and steel headquarters of the Bose Corporation, accurately dubbed “The Mountain,” one can see that Amar Gopal Bose has accomplished quite a lot in his 78 years.

Originally from Philadelphia, Bose, who was recently inducted into the 2008 National Inventors Hall of Fame, first discovered his love of audio electronics while fixing radios in his basement as a teenager during World War II. Later, in high school, he would take off Fridays to work at a radio repair shop, an arrangement that his classmates often teased him about and that lasted until he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1947.
He has since grown his audio empire —known as the Bose Corporation — into one of the top sound research and development facilities in the world. The company builds all types of high-end audio equipment, from commercially available music players and home theaters to auditorium sound systems and equipment for military aircraft and submarines and even NASA. The Bose Corporation has also branched out into automotive work, developing a new type of vehicle suspension system not yet on the market.
But the start of the Bose Corporation –which employs 9,000 people worldwide and has annual sales of $2.5 billion — was a modest one. Bose and fellow MIT electrical engineering student Sherwin Greenblatt, now the company president, founded the corporation in 1964 with funding from military contracts.
Bose began the company just years after earning his doctoral degree in electrical engineering from MIT and attending New Delhi’s National Physical Laboratory as a Fulbright Scholar. He has since maintained a 50-year partnership with MIT in which he has been both professor and collaborator. As with the university, Bose has created a reputation for innovation. His corporation is home to over 100 patents and trade secrets, with at least ten new patents up for approval each year. In 1987, the Intellectual Property Owners Association co-named him and fellow scientist Dr. William Short “Inventor of the Year” for their acoustic waveguide speaker technology. His induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame came earlier this month. But such honors, he said, are only as good as the next invention.
And it is the future that Bose is most eager about. India, he says, is one of the leaders in the software and IT business, and he sees the nation leading the world in years to come. Technological advancements in South Asia are increasing, said Bose, noting that the United States must ensure it keeps pace. To keep up, he said, the United States must invest in education, one of the things that Bose considers most important for a nation’s survival. Countries like China and India treat education with utmost importance, he added.
Bose’s parents had a strong influence over his life. His father, an immigrant from what is now Bangladesh, was in the business of importing cocoa fiber products. He was also a lecturer and activist for freedom for India during British rule. His mother was born in the United States, but steeped in Indian culture.
“[Being Indian] definitely had an influence,” he said.
When he was a professor at MIT, he always tried to meet the parents of doctoral students, so he could tell more about the students. “You can see the correlation; usually the relationship is pretty tight. You can know a lot about someone’s character by meeting their parents,” he said.
Despite his age and achievements, Bose, who has two children in their 40s, remains a dedicated scientist and researcher who still works six days a week. He likes to conduct most of his research at his home in Wayland, Mass., since he says the work is more mathematical and he doesn’t want to be disturbed. When he’s not at the job, he plays badminton and swims (three times a week) and enjoys listening to classical music.
And he shows no signs of slowing down. When asked if he was planning on retiring anytime soon, he quipped: “What’s that?”
“Research is play for me,” he said as he sat in his office high atop the Bose Mountain, with a postcard-picture perfect view of the Massachusetts countryside. “You’re playing games with the universe,” he said.
He has a wall-sized dry erase board next to his desk so he can write down complicated mathematical formulas and equations that pop into his head throughout the day. “To do research you have to believe something is possible,” he said.
As for inventions the corporation may pursue in the future, Bose remains open minded. “Whatever people come up with that’s interesting and challenging. … If it’s just for sales, we’re not interested. We only want the best product, and we’ll continue on the same path trying to make excellence in whatever we do.”

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