Dr. Gilles Daigle, ASA’s President from 2007-2008, has been a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) since 1988. He served as ASA Vice President from 2000-2001 and has played an active role in the Society’s many committees. He received ASA’s R. Bruce Lindsay Award in 1988 and the Helmholtz-Rayleigh Interdisciplinary Silver Medal in Noise and Physical Acoustics in 2005 for his “contributions to understanding the effects of micrometeorology, topography, and ground properties on outdoor sound propagation.”
Dr. Gilles Daigle (left) and his business associate, Dr. Michael Stinson (right) from MG Acoustics, enjoying the outdoors.
Dr. Daigle, a Canadian citizen, earned his B.S. in physics from the University of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada in 1975, and both his M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from Carleton University in Ontario, Canada in 1977 and 1981, respectively. He has spent a total of 46 years, and counting, working his way up and across fields at the National Research Council Canada (NRC), first as a graduate student and then as a research officer. His research there has encompassed everything from atmospheric sound propagation and meteorology to telecommunications and hearing research, before becoming researcher emeritus at the NRC in 2009, a position he still holds today. At that same time, he co-founded an acoustics consulting business, MG Acoustics, with his colleague Dr. Michael Stinson.
Dr. Daigle is married to Nicole St. Laurent, a retired translator. They have one daughter, who is an accountant, as well as three cats. Transitioning into retirement now, Dr. Daigle has plenty going on, from renovation and maintenance projects around the house to taking care of the aforementioned cats. In non-pandemic times, Dr. Daigle checks in at the NRC a few times a week and enjoys traveling with his wife and/or daughter on bird watching and photography trips. We had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Daigle and finding out more about his path to becoming an ASA President.
Dr. Daigle is an avid birdwatcher and photographer. Although he can identify many birds by sound, he mostly relies on sight. Here are examples of two of the over 600 species of which he has photographed. The Crested Caracara (Left) is native to Mexico but is sometimes seen in southern Texas. The Snowy Owl (Right) is native to Canada but can be seen in the northern States in winter.
Tell us a little about your career path and journey to where you are now.
My career path and journey to acoustics was somewhat indirect and a bit accidental. In high school in Moncton, New Brunswick, we had a small science club and the science teachers organized lab projects during the final year with the University of Moncton. So I worked with a chemistry professor, learning how to synthesize elastic polymers and about the process of vulcanization, which I really enjoyed. Thus, it was natural to enroll in the chemistry department when I entered the University of Moncton after high school.
However, I was disappointed with first year chemistry and found the linkages between my math and physics courses to be much more interesting. So, I switched to the physics department for my second year. While an undergraduate, I was invited by one of the best nuclear physicists at the university, Raymond LeBlanc, to work in his lab studying positron annihilation. By this time, I had pretty much decided that I wanted to pursue a career in nuclear physics and after my second year I spent a summer in a larger lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. There, I worked on Mössbauer spectroscopy as a potential technique to find oil deposits in sediments, the subject of my first paper (Daigle, 1973).
Now comes my accidental beginnings in acoustics. After my third year as an undergraduate, I was offered two summer positions: one in the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories north of Ottawa and a second with the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa to work in acoustics. Well my choice was obvious, nuclear physics! However, a buddy of mine in the math department was also offered two positions: one with a defense lab in Québec city and the other with the NRC. He came to me and said, “Why don’t we both go to Ottawa. We can share an apartment and have some fun.” So, we opted for fun instead!
I ended up working in acoustics with Tony Embleton and Joe Piercy–who was known for his fundamental contributions to atmospheric absorption. I spent most of the summer measuring ground impedance. These measurements are reproduced (figures 3-5) in Allan Pierce’s book, “Acoustics: An Introduction to Its Physical Principles and Applications.” I did the analysis and I remember plotting every dot, triangle, and square on old fashion graph paper. This was before the time of computers.
When I left NRC at the end of the following summer to pursue a master’s degree in nuclear physics at Carleton University in Ottawa, Tony Embleton said, “If you are ever interested in doing your graduate work in acoustics, we can arrange that. There is a shortage of physicists working in acoustics.” I kept his words in mind but did not accept his offer at that time.
After the first few weeks at Carleton in the fall of 1975, I realized that there were not many employment opportunities in nuclear physics: I saw a lot of recent graduates drifting from postdoc to postdoc, not able to find stable employment. I remembered what Tony Embleton had said and I did enjoy working in acoustics, so that same semester I initiated an agreement with Carleton and Tony at the NRC to do my master’s research at the NRC labs. Thus began – or continued – my career in acoustics. I continued with a similar arrangement for my Ph.D. at Carleton and NRC. I have never regretted that decision.
Just prior to completing my Ph.D. at Carleton University, I was offered a position in the physics department of my undergraduate university and I returned to New Brunswick in 1979, teaching there and finishing my Ph.D. In 1981, a position opened at NRC and I came back to Ottawa to devote myself to research in acoustics. I have been there ever since. In 2009, Michael Stinson and I started a small R&D consulting company called MG Acoustics. In the last ten years, we have undertaken research projects on a variety of topics such as novel hearing protectors, telecommunication applications, sound propagation, beamforming, aircraft audibility, wind turbine noise, etc.
What inspired you to run for ASA president?
I am not sure “inspired” is the right word. I started attending ASA meetings with the Cambridge, Massachusetts meeting of 1979. The people in the lab at NRC have always been active within the ASA and the ASA was the natural choice for my professional organization. I was encouraged by them to attend both ASA meetings each year and to get involved in the affairs of the Society. Attending technical committee meetings was the obvious way to get started. Eventually I found myself as chair of physical acoustics, serving on several administrative committees, the executive council, and then as vice president. Thus, running for president was just in the natural course of events.
Having said that, I should add that our small acoustics lab at the NRC produced four ASA presidents over the years: Edgar Shaw, Tony Embleton, myself, and Mike Stinson. I will not say that running for president was something expected, but maybe that contributed to inspiring me!
What was the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? And as ASA president?
Probably the biggest challenge that I faced in my career was being group leader—a position similar to department head in the United States– at NRC in the early 1990’s. This was a time of major reorganization within the NRC. I faced the challenge of strategic planning and defining new areas of study for my research group, which was then called the Acoustics and Signal Processing Group, Institute for Microstructural Sciences. In short, the challenge was justifying why our activities in acoustics should continue amidst the pressure of being publicly funded, budget cuts, and changes in government priorities. As a government organization, we were always under scrutiny and this was stressful.
At the same time, I was elected for a three-year term as president of the International Commission for Acoustics (ICA). This was followed shortly by my term as ASA president. Immediately after that, I was elected for a four-year term as president of the International Institute of Noise Control Engineering (I-INCE). And all I ever wanted to do was work in my lab!
As ASA president, I would have to focus on the joint European Acoustics Association (EAA)-ASA meeting in Paris in 2008 as the biggest challenge. This meeting attracted some 5000 registrants and was an organizational nightmare requiring a considerable amount of coordination between the ASA, the EAA, and SFA, the French Acoustical Society. My mother tongue is French, and this helped to interact with our French counterparts. In the end, with the coordinated efforts of all involved and despite twice the expected number of registrants, this monstrous meeting went amazingly well. Nonetheless, for me it was a stressful time.
What was your biggest contribution to ASA as president?
Some past ASA presidents would say that it is exactly a one-year term to prevent any one president from doing too much damage to the Society. Others would say that a one-year term is not enough – you have no time to accomplish anything! But it is possible for the Society to make a contribution if there is enough continuity across presidencies. One such example is the merging of the Acoustical Society Foundation within the ASA. Before the merger, the Foundation was a separate entity with its own charter. People felt like the Foundation lacked transparency and that it might be better to merge within the Society. From beginning to end, the process took several years and needed the coordination and support from president to president. In this regard, only good ideas with longstanding support by groups of leadership over the years become practice. The merger became official when I, as president at the time, signed the papers during the 2007 New Orleans meeting.
What surprised you most about being an ASA president?
Most ASA presidents previously served either as a member of the executive council, as vice president, or both. Thus, the workings of the council and the society are not something unfamiliar when one becomes president. And serving on council or as vice president was not so bad.
However, before the start of my term, a past president –Richard Lyon – said to me, “Nothing prepares you for the onslaught that awaits you.” Well he was right! Not a week went by when there was not something to deal with. Sometimes it seems that I did nothing else all week. Fortunately, the president is supported by a dedicated staff and all the volunteer effort. I still remember how Elaine Moran would end most of her e-mails by asking, “How would you like to proceed?” Fortunately, most often Elaine had also outlined a possible way to proceed!
ASA is constantly growing and evolving. How has ASA improved and changed since you were president?
Over the years, the ASA has always met the challenges to grow and evolve by taking critical steps when needed. For example, the creation of the technical committees (TC) in the mid-1900s, that everyone now takes for granted, was a critical step. Before that I guess it was just the executive council (EC) who did everything. After the creation of the TCs, the EC would still sit in meetings for several hours listening to committee chairs giving report after report instead of getting down to business. This led to the creation of the administrative councils resulting in members of the executive council being more involved in the affairs of the Society rather than sitting in meetings. These are two sets of initiatives that have really benefited the ASA.
Another example of the ASA’s evolution is through its publications, especially in recent years. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA) has been the primary publication of the Society since the beginning, Echoes was popular for a while but has since been replaced by Acoustics Today, and now there are JASA Express Letters and the Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics (POMA). There have been several other legacy titles including Acoustics Research Letters, Noise Control, and Sound: Its Uses and Control that all go to show how the needs and desires in publications of the Society have been met and changed over time.
What attributes about yourself have helped or hindered you in your career?
A good memory has probably helped me to cope with it all. For example, when someone comes in with an idea to change things, I can often explain the reason behind why that was established the way it was. Thus, initiating more discussion to better see whether or not any proposed changes would be beneficial. It keeps me on top of things, to remember how things happen over the years or why something was created.
I am basically a very shy person, I tend to keep to myself, and I am not very outgoing. As a consequence, this has probably hindered me somewhat; it has certainly contributed to a high level of stress!
What person influenced your career path the most and in what way?
That would have to be Tony Embleton. For some reason, my application for a summer position stood out to him from the several hundred other applications. He is the one that suggested a career in acoustics. Then over the years he has always been a mentor and friend. He is a skilled scientist and an able administrator. Thus, he guided and supported me every step of the way in my research and in my involvement with the ASA, other organizations, and responsibilities.
What is one work-hack that you learned or found over your career and would recommend to others?
First, I must say that work-hacks are not appropriate in research. There are no shortcuts or tricks to increase the productivity output in research. Reliable and repeatable results is just painstaking work.
Administrative work is another matter. At one point, after mildly complaining about the amount of paper work, a member of a review committee said to me, “If you open a letter or pick up a piece of paper that someone has just put on your desk, deal with it or put it in the waste basket. Do not put it back on your desk – you’ll just have to pick it up again and read it all over again.” Although not always practical, I must admit that this helped by creating some discipline in dealing with administrative work.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I am working on full retirement after 41 years in the workplace. The slowdown in activity and business due to COVID-19 has probably contributed to that decision. When you hit your 60’s you slow down, things tend to take a lot longer, and you really only do the things you like. I always liked puttering around the house so I constantly have renovations or repairs on the go. We also have the cats– raising a cat is like raising a two-year-old that never grows up, and we have three of them running around like maniacs! So, these things are keeping me busy. But as I said, I’m “working” on it!
However, I continue to have an appointment as Researcher Emeritus at NRC and I expect to be called upon from time to time, either as a consultant or to take on work–some of the contracts that MG Acoustics has had have been with the NRC.
What advice would you give to a young ASA member about getting involved in professional groups, such as ASA, and the role these professional organizations may have on their lives?
I would give the same advice I was given when I started. Attend as many ASA meeting as possible, much of what is important happens in conversations in the corridor after a paper is given. Get to know the people. Get involved with the affairs of the society. Attend technical committee meetings. Volunteer to organize a special session from time to time. The rest will follow.
It is important to get involved with a professional organization such as the ASA. One cannot conduct research in a closet. Contact with other professionals is a necessity to discuss issues and compare notes. This can make the difference between simply adding something to the body of scientific knowledge and making an important or significant contribution. For example, I was in a NATO working group, consisting of people all working in the same field. We would sit around a table and define where we were and where we needed to go. We would bring in meteorologists to advise us. In this way you don’t work in isolation, you know you are doing something that, not only you but, others have identified as needing to be done. One time we brought in experts from different sub-fields of propagation. The atmospheric propagation community had been stuck for a while, but when we met with people from the underwater community, ideas flowed. Without them, the field would have taken another 5-10 years to advance! These kinds of interactions are fundamentally important.
Finally, one cannot neglect the friendships, acquaintances, and contacts that one makes within a professional organization such as ASA. These contribute to enriching your life.
Select Publications of Gilles Daigle:
Daigle, G.A. (1973). Recoiless-fraction ratio for Fe57 in octahedral and tetrahedral sites of magnetite. Proceedings of the 9th Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference, Ontario, Canada.
Daigle, G.A. (1982). Diffraction of sound by a noise barrier in the presence of atmospheric turbulence. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 71(4), 847-854.
Daigle, G.A. and Stinson, M.R. (2006). Design and performance of a micro probe attachment for a ½-in. microphone. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 120, 186-191.
Daigle, G.A., Piercy, J.E., and Embleton, T.F.W. (1983). Line-of-sight propagation through atmospheric turbulence near the ground. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 74(5), 1505-1513.
Daigle, G.A., Stinson, M.R., and Havelock, D.I. (1996). Experiments on surface waves over a model impedance plane using pulses. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 99, 1993-2005.
Daigle, G.A., Stinson, M.R., and Ryan, J.G. (2005). Beamforming with air-coupled surface waves around a sphere and circular cylinder. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 117(6), 3373-3376.
Embleton, T.F.W., and Daigle, G.A. (1991). Atmospheric Propagation. In Hubbard, H.H. (Ed.), Aeroacoustics of Flight Vehicles: Theory and Practice, NASA Reference Publication 1258 (2), NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia, pp. 53-100.
Ghinet, S., Price, A., Daigle, G.A., Stinson, M.R., et al. (2019). Atmospheric propagation of aircraft acoustic signature from high altitude. Proceedings of INTER-NOISE 2019, Madrid, Spain, June 16-19, 2019.
Keith, S.E., Daigle, G.A., and Stinson, M.R. (2018). Wind turbine low frequency and infrasound. propagation and sound pressure level calculations at dwellings. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 14(2), 981-996.
 Dr. Gilles Daigle has served on the Technical Committees on Physical Acoustics (1985-1987, 1994-2000; chair 1987-1990) and Noise (1983-1997, 2004-2006). He has also served on the Technical Council (1987-1990, 1999-2002; chair 2000-2001), Executive Council (1999-2002, 2006-2009; elected 1992-1995), the Committee for Rules and Governance (2010-2013), International Research and Education (chair 2004-2006), Salaries and Honoraria (1999-2002, 2006-2008), Meetings (1991-1994, 1999-2000; chair 1996-1999), Financial Affairs (chair 1994-1995), Nominating Committee (1993), Medals and Awards Committee (Physical Acoustics 1991-1994), and the Technical Program (117th, 118th and chair for the 125th meeting).