Renowned Scientist Henry Bass, Director of UM Acoustics Center, Dies

OXFORD, Miss. – Henry Ellis Bass, 64, director of the
National Center for Physical Acoustics at the University of
Mississippi, died Wednesday (May 28) at Baptist Memorial
Hospital-North Mississippi after a long illness.   

A renowned physicist and acoustics researcher, Bass was
honored with the Acoustical Society of Americas Silver
Medal in 2006 for his numerous and significant technical
contributions to the field. The Tulsa, Okla., native led
efforts to create NCPA in the 1980s and served as the
center’s director since 1992. His research has included
projects to track tornadoes, silence sonic booms, detect
troop movements and monitor nuclear tests.

“Hank Bass was an extraordinarily gifted teacher and
researcher, and we were truly fortunate that he spent
virtually his entire professional career at the
university,” UM Chancellor Robert Khayat said. “He was a
world-class scientist who helped put Ole Miss at the center
of the map in the field of physical acoustics. But perhaps
his biggest contribution is the many scientists he mentored
and introduced to the scientific community of the world.
His legacy will live on for many years through them and
their work.”

Visitation is set for 6-8 p.m. today (May 30) at Coleman
Funeral Home in Oxford. A memorial service is scheduled for
2 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts
on the UM campus.

Bass earned his doctorate in physics from Oklahoma State
University and joined the UM faculty in 1970 as an
assistant professor of physics. He served as acting chair
of physics in 1976-77 and was named the university’s F.A.P.
Barnard Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy in

“Hank knew how to mentor scientists and engineers and get
them moving in the right direction,” said James Sabatier,
principal scientist at NCPA and one of Bass’ former
graduate students. “By working with engineers at Army
research labs and other places, he has guided acoustics
research all over the world.”

Bass served two years in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and
remained on Reserve duty for several years. He was a member
of NATO’s SET Panel T6-25 and the Army Research
Laboratory’s Technical Assessment Board.

During his tenure as director, NCPA conducted several
research programs for the U.S. military, including projects
to better detect submarines and approaching tanks, muffle
sonic booms of supersonic planes and missiles, and stop
injured soldiers from bleeding to death on battlefields.

“Hank’s passing is a significant loss for the University and
the Oxford community,” U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker said. “I
worked closely with Hank Bass and other researchers at NCPA
for many years on projects to strengthen our national
defense and advance important private sector initiatives.
Whether he was walking the halls of Congress or visiting
key leaders in the Pentagon, Hank was first and foremost a
wonderful ambassador for the University of Mississippi. We
will keep Cathy and their family very much in our thoughts
and our prayers.”

In recent years, Bass directed much of his effort toward
completing the International Monitoring System, a network
of 60 infrasound stations scattered around the world that
use certain low frequency sounds to pinpoint nuclear blasts
up to thousands of miles away. Bass personally oversaw the
installation of several of the stations and helped NCPA
scientists access data from them in hopes of improving
weather forecasts, providing advance warning of earthquakes
and volcanoes and boosting aircraft safety.

Infrasound recordings from the 2003 reentry of space
shuttle Columbia helped Bass and colleagues at other
institutions discount several potential causes of the
shuttle’s breakup, helping NASA investigators to quickly
focus on the real cause of the disaster.

Bass also played a key role in developing the Tornado Alert
System, which is licensed through a start-up home safety
and technology company. The alarms sense the distinctive
sound of a swirling funnel cloud and alert homeowners,
school officials and others to seek shelter immediately.

A Fellow of the Acoustical Society of American, he served
as chair of the society’s Archival History Committee.

“Hank was a towering figure in the field of acoustics,”
said Anthony Atchley, immediate past president of ASA. “His
research, leadership and mentorship influenced three
generations of acoustical scientists from all corners of
the globe. Although Hank’s death is a tremendous loss, we
can take comfort in knowing that his memory and his work
will live on.”

Besides his teaching and research, Bass is credited with
driving efforts to restore Kennon Observatory for teaching
and research in the 1970s and ’80s. The observatory, which
fell into disrepair during the 1960s, is regularly used for
astronomy classes, public viewings and research.

“He was a man of vision and action,” said Alice Clark, UM
vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “He
was a good friend and adviser who will be deeply missed.”

Survivors include his wife, Judy Cathy Sneed Bass of
Oxford; his mother, Hazel Agnes Ellison Harrel of Oxford;
one sister, Charlotte Ann Bass Conley of Elkhart, Ind.;
four children, Belinda Sue Bass Heflin (Mark) of
Collierville, Tenn., Christina Annette Bass Ware (Randall)
of Indianapolis, Ind., Henry Ellis Bass Jr. (Kristy) of
Collierville, Tenn., and John Duncan Bass of Oxford; and
seven grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his father, Henry Ulysses

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be
sent to the University of Mississippi Foundation, c/o NCPA,
P.O. Box 249, University, MS, 38677, or give online at