Ilene Busch-Vishniac is a mechanical engineer, university administrator, and inventor of sound-related technology. She established a career focused on the goal of mastering sound, both pleasant sounds that people want to hear and disruptive sounds that they do not.
Busch-Vishniac said that her parents had hoped she would become a lawyer. Instead, she entered college as a music major, studying piano at the Eastman School of Music and taking academic classes at the University of Rochester. After one semester she realized that she didn't have the talent or the drive she thought she needed to become a successful performer. However, she had taken a freshman seminar on the physics of music that got her interested in acoustics. In her second semester, she switched her major to physics and mathematics.
After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester, Busch-Vishniac headed to MIT where she continued to study acoustics and earned master's (1978) and doctoral (1981) degrees in mechanical engineering. As a graduate student, she developed computer tools for studying problem noise in the suburbs and investigated how to produce quieter computer printers.
Soon after, Busch-Vishniac worked as a post-doc and researcher at Bell Labs. There, she developed devices for microphones and earphones and improved conference calling systems to eliminate echoes that some speakers produce. She has several patents on her technology, including a 1984 patent for an electret transducer.
In 1982, Busch-Vishniac joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin and was later named Temple Professor of Mechanical Engineering. At Austin, she started to work on ways to reduce the level of noise that comes from transportation. She also investigated methods of building more effective, less expensive highway sound barriers that are built to spare local residents the disturbance of freeway traffic. The solution, she said, appears to lie in the geometric design of the barrier, not in its composition.
In 1998, Busch-Vishniac went to work as Dean of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering in Baltimore where she focused her research on the highway noise barriers. She held this post until 2003 when she resigned to serve as the President of the Acoustical Society of America, a position she held until 2005. She served as Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs at McMaster University from 2007 to 2012, and as President of the University of Saskatchewan from 2012 to 2014.
Busch-Vischniac has collected a number of honors and awards for her work. In 1997, she won the Society of Women Engineers' Achievement Award. In 1995 she was named a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator. She was recipient in 1987 of The Acoustical Society of America's (ASA) Lindsay Award, and in 1995, she was recipient of the American Society of Engineering Education's (ASEE) Curtis McGraw Research Award. Busch-Vishniac received the ASA Silver Medal in Engineering Acoustics in 2001 for her work in developing novel electret microphones and of precision micro-electro-mechanical sensors and positioners.