Oral-History:Murray Sachs

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About Murray Sachs

Sachs went to MIT for his undergraduate and graduate career, both in electrical engineering, receiving his PhD in 1966. He worked in the emerging field of bioengineering, and in particular modeling the way sound is received, transmitted, encoded, and comprehended between the ear and the brain, via the neurons of the auditory nerve. His advisors and mentors included Moise Goldstein, Nelson Kiang, Dick Johns, Bill Peak, and Jerry Letvin. After three years in the Navy doing work on submarine-to-submarine acoustic communication, and underwater speech perception and a year at Cambridge for a postdoc doing frequency analysis of the retina with John Robson and Jack Nachmias, he went to Johns Hopkins as a professor, where he has spent the rest of his career. His research includes realizing that the ear comprehends sound by doing a sort of Fourier analysis on incoming signals; figuring out the mechanics of the inner ear, figuring out the encoding process of sound and space into discharge patterns in the auditory nerve, and trying to understand how speech is encoded in the auditory nerve. His modeling of how the cochlear nucleus works (along with work by his colleague Eric Young) contributed to the development of cochlear implants; his current work on figuring out how speech encoding goes wrong in damaged ears may help to build hearing aids that (for example) work in noisy rooms. He has also worked on how birds process birdsong, in their ears and cortex.

Sachs became director of the Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering department in 1991. He thinks the Hopkins program is special because its long-term collaboration with the medical school gives it a fundamentally biological rather than engineering approach, and because its small number of graduate students per faculty allows for a close, mentoring relationship. The Department is a leader in physiological modeling and biomedical instrumentation and imaging, and he is trying to direct it towards becoming a leader at interpreting images, pattern recognition, the computational modeling of physiological systems, tissue engineering, and drug delivery. He believes the field in general is growing and that the trend in the field is towards more imaging. He recommends an oral interview be conducted with someone in the Whitaker Foundation, which has done much to develop the field nationally. At Hopkins, it is turning the department into the Whitaker Institute for Biomedical Engineering.

About the Interview

MURRAY SACHS: An Interview Conducted by Fredrik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, 25 April 2000

Interview #394 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Murray Sachs, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 2000 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview: Murray Sachs
Interviewer: Fredrik Nebeker
Date: 25 April 2000
Place: Baltimore, Maryland