An engineer and professor at MIT, in 1954 Beranek wrote “the” textbook on acoustics; revised editions are still used today. In 1948, Beranek and another MIT professor, and a student, formed a company: Bolt, Beranek and Newman, which designed the acoustics for concert halls and auditoriums. They also got some interesting government contracts, including creating noise standards for airports and public buildings, and doing an audio examination of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate audiotape, with its infamous 18.5-minute “gap” (erasure). That helped lead the company into buying an early computer, and because of that “we were able to attract some of the best minds from MIT and Harvard,” he said.
That led to the company getting a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to help design and build a new computer network: ARPAnet — the precursor to the Internet — helping to create or implement many of the protocols still used today. (BBN engineer Ray Tomlinson, for instance, invented the protocols for email, including the @ sign. He was an Honorary Unsubscribe honoree in March.) “Leo and some of his colleagues had enough foresight to set up an institution that had many of the attributes of an academic institution,” said Robert Kahn, the BBN engineer who co-developed the underlying communications rules of the Internet (the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP). “He created an environment in which people could explore ideas and take them much further than you typically did in an academic environment.” Beranek never quite fully retired: his most recent paper, on concert hall acoustics, was published earlier this year. He died at home on October 10, at 102.