Dr. Lawrence Crum, a member of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) since 1965, served as ASA Vice President from 1995-1996, and President from 1997-1998. He has received ASA’s awards for best magazine article on acoustics by a professional for “Sonoluminescence” (1995), the Helmholtz-Rayleigh Interdisciplinary Silver Medal (2000), the Outstanding Mentor Award (2006), the Gold Medal (2013), and has served on numerous ASA committees.
Dr. Crum received all of his degrees from Ohio University: obtaining his B.S. in mathematics in 1963, M.S. in physics in 1965, and his Ph.D. in physics in 1967. He has spent most of his career in academia, a champion of physical and biomedical acoustics, playing an integral role in the creation of the National Center for Physical Acoustics at the University of Mississippi, and was the founder of the Center for Industrial and Medical Ultrasound at the University of Washington. Despite his academic home base, his research has always had an application focus that has led to bettering our world. This is exemplified in his contributions to making lithotripsy a safer process, as well as his current pursuit to use hydrodynamic cavitation to disinfect and desalinate water. He also acquired funding to build the first portable dynastic ultrasound scanner, the Sonosite, which now has approximately 100,000 instruments in service. Dr. Crum is married to Jane Crum, who once worked as Assistant Director of Research at the University of Mississippi. So the pursuit of research, in his words, “has always been a family business.”
We had the privilege to find out what influenced Dr. Crum and shaped him into who he is today. We also learned about his experience as ASA president and share that here with you.
Tell us a little about your career path and journey to where you are now.
I grew up on a farm in a rural community in southeastern Ohio, in what can be called Appalachia. I had only three teachers in grade school and only 16 students in my high school graduating class. I began my undergraduate career at the U. S. Naval Academy studying engineering, but I left the Academy before graduation and finished my degree at Ohio University in mathematics.
Finding a job with just a B.S. in mathematics proved difficult but I had always been interested in physics, so I went to the physics department at Ohio University and asked about the possibility of getting an assistantship for graduate school. My future advisor said I can give you a job tomorrow! I became a graduate assistant and finished my PhD in physics in three and a half years. After a postdoc under Professor Frederick Vinton Hunt at Harvard in acoustics, I sought a job back at the Naval Academy where I could also coach fencing, a long-time passion of mine (I was NCAA champion in épée in 1963). I spent nine years at the Naval Academy as a faculty member in physics. After a while, I grew tired of teaching the same physics class year after year and started looking for a new job.
I knew some people at the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”) and they invited me to take a job there. While at “Ole Miss”, I obtained tenure, became Frederick A. P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Physics, and Director of the National Center for Physical Acoustics. But after 10 years, my wife and I were ready to leave Mississippi. I knew some people in Seattle, so I started looking there, but was met with some resistance coming from Mississippi. Fortunately for me, the Applied Physics Lab (APL) at the University of Washington (UW) was a soft money lab, so if you could bring in money, you could do what you wanted to do. I was able to win grants and secure funding, so we moved to Seattle where I finished my career.
At UW, I was principal physicist in the APL and a research professor of bioengineering and electrical engineering studying underwater acoustics. But the underwater acoustics program at APL is one of the best in the world and I found that everyone was better than me. I had an opportunity to do a consulting job in California with a group of people building a new device using high intensity focused ultrasound. I thought this was a fantastic opportunity. So, I wrote some proposals to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); after being awarded substantial funding, I convinced our provost to establish a center at UW focused on this topic. And as I said, if you had money, doors opened. So using the money I had secured from the NIH and DARPA, I established and became Director of the Center for Industrial and Medical Ultrasound (CIMU) and was a part of this until my retirement. It was a very successful center, at one point having over 60 employees and 15 graduate students. Several companies were established through collaboration with the center; I also started my own company (Ultrasound Technologies, Inc.), taking a partial leave from the UW for 5 years to run that before selling it and returning to UW for the remainder of my career.
What inspired you to run for ASA president?
I became a member of the ASA as a graduate student in 1965 and have attended nearly every national meeting since. The ASA was not only a professional home for me, but a community of colleagues that influenced and directed my professional career. When I was a graduate student at Ohio University my advisor, Bert Stumpf, told me that if you’re going to be an acoustician, you have to go where acousticians hang out and that was the Acoustical Society of America. I went to a meeting and I found it to be exciting and stimulating. I gave my first paper in physical acoustics and there were five people in that session who became Gold Medal winners and/or ASA president: Bruce Lindsay, Isadore Rudnick, Floyd Dunn, Murray Strasberg, and David Blackstock. All of them wanted to help me in my fledgling career, and I just found that to be wonderfully mentoring. As an ASA member, I saw old fields mature and new fields emerge, allowing me to stay abreast of the scientific development of acoustics as a major discipline of science itself. I was active in the affairs of the Society, volunteering for any and all committees that would have me. Thus, it was only natural that I wanted to serve the Society in any role that the members would have me.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? And as ASA president?
In order to achieve prominence in a scientific discipline, it is necessary to obtain funding to perform research of interest to oneself and to our general society as a whole. In many cases, one has to support graduate students and postdocs to undertake this research. I always had a large group of students and professional staff so it was necessary for me to raise several tens of millions of dollars over my career to support this research. Accordingly, I faced the constant challenge of writing many proposals to a diverse set of funding agencies, and furthermore, ensuring that these proposals were of sufficient merit to be awarded funding.
As ASA President, we were faced with the growing trend that libraries were trying to reduce their journal subscriptions, including The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA), as the internet became a ready source of digital (and often free) information. This was a big problem for the ASA and it still is. Historically, JASA’s profits have helped cover the costs of all the other losing cost centers of the Society. But a decrease in journal subscriptions means that the Society has to find other ways to cover the costs of services provided to its members. In addition, the ASA became THE acoustical society of the world and it was necessary to meet the needs of an international membership. One of the ways I tried to do this was by offering electronic journal subscriptions to international members. This worked for some time, but now with so many things available on the internet, including university-affiliated access to the journal, individual electronic memberships are not as important.
What was your biggest contribution to ASA as president?
As a successful researcher, I often attended meetings in acoustics in several foreign countries and so I proposed that the ASA meet jointly with the International Congress on Acoustics, which we hosted in Seattle of 1998, the year I served as president. Over 2,000 acousticians attended this meeting, making it at that time, the largest meeting of acousticians in the world. I believe that this meeting introduced not only the world to the ASA, but also ASA members to the world. We have now become a very international society, and perhaps that meeting in some way paved a path toward our more active international involvement.
What surprised you most about being an ASA president?
The shortness of the term meant that it was extremely difficult to achieve anything of substance during one’s presidency. For example, when I was president-elect I wanted to jump start my presidency by giving a presentation about the ideas I had for my term. But I was not able to do so and it really was not until six months into my presidency, at the first ASA meeting of my term, that I first shared my ideas. By the time the next meeting came around I was finishing my term. This does not allow very much time to accomplish anything. I have advocated for a longer presidential term but there are several valid reasons not to change a long-established tradition. For one, it is a prestigious role to be president. If the term were longer, fewer people would have the chance to be president.
ASA is constantly growing and evolving. How has ASA improved and changed since you were president?
I think the leadership workshops that were held were of value. There have been a few attempts at this where members and leadership meet for a few days and discuss the society, ways to improve it, and establish initiatives for moving forward. Some of those initiatives have been giving ASA a modern look such as online streaming, getting younger people involved, and improving the impact factor of the journal.
I think efforts to improve JASA, as well as attract more involvement from industry are also desirable goals, although the challenges are quite significant. One goal that I have advocated is attracting new scientific disciplines to the ASA. Science is always changing and new ideas, technologies, and methodologies are rapidly developing and the ASA does not really have an efficient mechanism for building a home for these disciplines within our Society. One solution is to hold joint meetings or mini-symposia on rapidly evolving new technologies so that the relevant individuals can see that the ASA is a place where they can be comfortable and flourish. The challenge with all of these is following through on these initiatives long enough to reap the benefits, and of course finding the volunteers to see them through.
What attributes about yourself have helped or hindered you in your career?
I have nearly an obsessive personality in which I find it difficult to give up on a goal of mine even though the rest of the world does not see it as of high priority. As a consequence, I have been relatively successful in obtaining funding for projects that are not initially well received. For example, I had one proposal that took five submissions before it was funded. The proposal was on lithotripsy, using shock waves to break up kidney stones. Prior to lithotripsy doctors had to perform surgery to remove kidney stones, which had a 1% death rate. But in its infancy as a technology, lithotripsy was damaging to the kidney and our research proposal was to investigate making this technology safer. The review panel consisted of doctors who were making money off of the technology and were not interested in slowing it down. After four more proposals, including joint proposals with other universities, and a shift in the review panel, we were finally funded by the NIH. That was 26 years ago and we have been funded continuously ever since, and this group has made significant improvements in the safety and efficacy of lithotripsy.
One of the things I have been most proud of is my h-index, which is 84. For those who are unfamiliar with this, the h-index of an author is the maximum number of papers, ‘h’, that have been published by an author that have been cited at least ‘h’ times. But my name is only first author on a few of those 84 papers. This means the work of my students has been relevant enough that other people have cited them. It is a compliment to my students and I am proud that my students and I work in an area that other people think is important.
What person influenced your career path the most and in what way?
If I could name ten people who influenced my life throughout my career I would say eight or nine of them were connected with the ASA; any progress that I have made has been due to their mentorship. This would include Bruce Lindsay, a world-class physicist and namesake of the Lindsay Award. Bruce was at my very first ASA talk and I was convinced at the time that he slept throughout my entire talk. But at the end, he lifted his head and asked me a really challenging question. Ever since then we were good friends. I would also say Robert Beyer, another Gold Medal winner and ASA president, stands out. Bob nominated me for several committees and often offered advice. Finally, David Blackstock has been a great friend and personal mentor for my entire professional career.
What is one work-hack that you learned or found over your career and would recommend to others?
Persistence. Life in science is mostly a race: to be the first to discover some new concept, the first to publish in a particular new area, the first to develop a widely-recognized research capability. There are always others who have the same goals and with limited resources available in science, one has to out-perform others. I do not think one should always compete, although that is often the only way, but whenever one has the chance to cooperate, rather than compete, then that is the best approach.
What are you working on now?
Several years ago I was introduced to a remarkable technology for disinfecting and desalinating the dirtiest of water, developed by a brilliant manDr. Bertwin Langenecker. I am trying to resurrect this technology, which involves hydrodynamic cavitation, and not only reproduce his work, but exploit it commercially.
Dr. Langenecker had hydrodynamic cavitation systems working in cities in Austria and California, but died before being able to develop the technology further. When he died, his family wanted to take this technology and start a company; the market for this technology was and still is enormous. They worked with several individuals to try to replicate the technology to no avail, eventually coming to me. I was very interested and said if they could fund it I could replicate it. So far they have not been able to raise the money, but there are several paths that we are currently pursuing, so time will tell. If I were successful in this endeavor, then I would find as great a satisfaction as anything I have done so far. After all, water is the new oil, and if one can find an inexpensive way to produce fresh water from seawater, the whole world would benefit.
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?
When I was given the International Society for Therapeutic Ultrasound’s Fry award, I said the following in my acceptance speech: “There are four things you should do to succeed in science: First, join a relevant professional society and go as often as possible to their meetings. Second, volunteer for any and all committees for which you have an interest. Third, make friends, particularly with those outside your own local community, and communicate with them regularly. Finally, cooperate, don’t compete.” This advice has served me well. My professional friends have broadened and enriched my approach to science, as well as my life beyond what I ever could have expected as a farm kid from Appalachia who did not even have indoor plumbing in his house until high school!
I would also say, if you really want to have an exciting and rewarding career, choose something in which you will be challenged to the extent of your ability. Take lessons from some of the people that have gone before you. It will give you insight to the choices that will affect the rest of your life.
Select Publications of Lawrence Crum:
Crum, L.A. (1994). Sonoluminescence. Physics Today 47(9), 22-29.
Crum, L.A. (1995). Bubbles hotter than the sun. New Scientist 146, 36-41.
Crum, L.A., Skinner, M., and Zeilinger, S. (2013). Desalination and Water Remediation by Hydrodynamic Cavitation. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 133, 3314.
Maxwell, A., Saphozhnikov, O., Bailey, M., Crum, L., et al. (2012). Disintegration of tissues using high intensity focused ultrasound: Two approaches that utilize shock waves. Acoustics Today 8(4), 24-36.
Vaezy, S., Kaczkowski, P., Andrew, M., and Crum, L. A. (2001). Image-Guided Acoustic Therapy. Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering 3, 375-390.
 Dr. Crum served on the committees on Standards (1973-77), Education in Acoustics (1972-78; Chair, 1980-82), Archives and History (1986-88), Meetings (1990-98), Women in Acoustics (1998-04); International Research and Education (2002-08; Chair, 2002-06), Investments (1998-08); Executive Council (1990-94), Technical Council (1996-98); Public Policy (2004-08); Medals and Awards (2002-10), as well as ad hoc committees on Blue Sky (1979-81) and International Meetings (2009-2010). He has also served on three technical committees: Physical Acoustics (1975-98), Underwater Acoustics (1988-92), and Biomedical Ultrasound and Bioresponse to Vibration (1985-present).