BME Prof Advanced Hearing and Acoustics Research
By Mark Dwortzan
Professor David C. Mountain (BME), 68, died on November 5 in Newburyport after a long illness. An internationally recognized professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University for the past 35 years, Mountain pursued research on auditory function and underwater acoustics, and was a cofounder of Biomimetic Systems, Inc., a Cambridge-based startup advancing acoustic sensors for medical, military and other applications. In 2002 he was inducted as a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering “for significant engineering-driven advances in the structure-function-mechanism relations of auditory physiology, with emphasis on outer hair cells and cochlea.”
As a principal investigator at the Auditory Biophysics and Simulation Laboratory and a key member of the Hearing Research Center, Mountain pursued studies that combined engineering and physiological techniques to model and improve understanding of the hearing process. He especially sought to pinpoint, quantify and model mechanisms of auditory processing in the cochlea, or inner ear, including the amplifying effect of the cochlea’s outer hair cells. He also studied natural acoustic signal sources and acoustic environments in order to better understand how the auditory pathway evolved and to develop computer simulations of natural environments for use as input to his models of the auditory pathway.
Applying many of his insights to real world problems, Mountain studied marine mammal hearing and undersea sound propagation for the Navy, and was the main force behind EarLab, an online ear experiment, modeling and database platform. He had planned to go on sabbatical this spring to study the effects of low-frequency noise from windmills.
As an educator, Mountain took a leading role in the design and evolution of the BME Department’s undergraduate and graduate curricula, and was a passionate advocate for incorporating substantial design content in BME courses. He served for many years as a member of the University’s Faculty Council representing the College of Engineering.
“From the start David clearly cared so much for the department, for the field, for undergraduate and graduate education, for collegiality,” said College of Engineering Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen. “He was a brilliant educator and scientist.”
“David played a pioneering role in the general development of the department, and hearing research specifically, over the past 35 years,” said BME Chair and Professor Sol Eisenberg. “His contributions over the years in so many areas have helped to make us the department we are today. He will be deeply missed.”
A member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, Association for Research in Otolaryngology, and Society for Neuroscience, Mountain authored or co-authored 175 articles, book chapters and other publications. He was also associate editor of Auditory Neuroscience from 1994 to 1997, served as a member of review panels for the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and NASA, and as a co-organizer, panelist or invited speaker at conferences focused on auditory systems and acoustics. Mountain received his BS degree in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and MS and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he met both his wife, Barbara Bereman, and his longtime research colleague, Professor Allyn Hubbard (ECE, BME).
As they pursued their PhDs, Mountain and Hubbard conducted many auditory experiments. “Often, we worked the entire night,” said Hubbard. “If the experiment failed, we usually plugged away, trying to perfect our instrumentation and data collection methods.”
They joined the BU faculty in the fall of 1979, and within nine months received the first government research grant ever awarded to the College of Engineering. “We did much of our handwritten work and brainstorming in the back room of the Dugout,” Hubbard recalled. “I named my son David Allyn, so to never forget the tremendous team we were together.”
Mountain and Hubbard went on to become fellow principal investigators of the Auditory Biophysics and Simulation Laboratory and—along with Professor H. Stephen Colburn (BME) and Professor Herb Voigt (BME)—original core members of the Hearing Research Center.
Raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mountain resided in the greater Newbury area since 1979, and was very engaged in local civic affairs. He served on the Merrimac Valley Planning Commission, the Newbury Planning Board from 2000 to 2011, and Town of Newbury Board of Selectmen since 2011. A true societal engineer, Mountain was known to apply his science and engineering expertise in selectmen’s meetings to help his colleagues address issues ranging from dune erosion on Plum Island to noise levels associated with a proposed solar array installation.
Mountain was also founder, director and president emeritus of the Parker River Clean Water Association, a successful alliance he formed with neighbors in 1994 that prevented a proposed development along the Parker River. In addition, he co-authored the highly influential Tidal Crossing Handbook: A Volunteer Guide to Assessing Tidal Restrictions, and wrote The Mills of Byfield, on the value of village mills in early New England. Along with his wife, Barbara, he also preserved and restored antique homes. He had several hobbies, including canoeing, camping, fishing, photography and wildlife tracking.
“Dave was an expert sailor and fisherman,” said Voigt. “He once took Allyn Hubbard and me out in his sailboat to go fishing in the Atlantic. He was focused on finding underwater ‘structure’—for that was where the fish were. He found his spot, and he and Allyn started catching many cod while I was still baiting my hook. In an hour we had more fish than we could have hoped for, and then they were gone.”
Mountain is survived by his wife, Barbara Bereman, of Byfield; daughters Carrie Mountain of Boston and Rebecca Mountain of Tucson, Arizona; sisters Jeanne Kay Guelke of Wynndel, British Columbia and Nancy Mountain of Roselle, Illinois; and several nieces and nephews.
Family and friends may call on Saturday, November 15, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the Twomey-LeBlanc and Conte Funeral Home, 193 High Street, Newburyport, where a funeral service will follow at 3 p.m and conclude at 4 p.m. Burial will be private. After the funeral, Dave Anderson will host mourners at his house at 17 Cherry Street in Newburyport. Memorial contributions in David Mountain’s name may be made to Essex County Greenbelt, 82 Eastern Ave., Essex, MA 01929 or Parker River Clean Water Association, P.O. Box 798, Byfield, MA 01922.