Richard "Dick" Lyon, acoustics expert and professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, dies at 89

Richard H. "Dick" Lyon PhD ’55, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, passed away on Jan. 21 at the age of 89. Lyon, who taught noise, vibration, and sound quality in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering for 32 years, made many contributions to the field of acoustics both in his academic research and as founder of two companies.

Lyon was born and raised in Evansville, Indiana, the son of Gertrude Lyon and Chester Lyon, an analytic chemist. He enrolled in Evansville College (now known as the University of Evansville), which was just a short distance from his family’s home. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in physics in 1952, Lyon enrolled at MIT to pursue his doctoral degree in physics. His thesis focused on the excitation of continuous systems by random noise fields.

After receiving his PhD in 1955, Lyon was appointed as assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota, where he remained for three years. He was then awarded a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Manchester in England, where he studied statistical energy analysis of vibration systems.

Upon returning to the United States after his postdoc, Lyon joined the company Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (now known as BBN Technologies), where he worked as a scientist conducting research and consultation projects in sound and vibration for a decade.

Lyon joined the faculty at MIT, first as lecturer in 1963 and then as professor of mechanical engineering in 1970. While at MIT, Lyon served as the head of the Division of Mechanics and Materials and was director of both the Acoustics and Vibratory Laboratory and the Structural Acoustics Program. He acted as thesis advisor to over 50 students and led research efforts in noise propagation and machinery noise until he retired from MIT in 1995.

While a professor at MIT, Lyon founded two companies. In 1970, he founded Cambridge Collaborative, Inc., a research and consulting firm in acoustics. Four years later, he founded the product and design company, RH Lyon Corp. In 2005, RH Lyon Corp merged with Acetech, which provides acoustics and vibration consulting.

Throughout his career, Lyon published several books and hundreds of technical papers. He also received numerous accolades and was a member of several prestigious societies. He served as vice president and president of the Acoustical Society of America, which awarded him their highest honor of the “Gold Medal” in 2003. He was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, and the National Academy of Engineering. He served as a fellow for the Institution of Diagnostic Engineering and a member of the Institute of Noise Control Engineering.

Both before and after retirement, Lyon pursued his hobbies of renovating old cars and rowing on the Charles River on a single scull. He was known for hosting international students who were unable to return home for the holidays.

Lyon is survived by his wife of 53 years, Jean Wheaton Lyon, as well as his children, Katherine Lyon Davis ’78, Geoffrey Cleveland Lyon, and Suzanne Lyon Riggle.

Those wishing to honor Lyon’s memory may make a contribution to the to the Alzheimer's Association in his name.