May 28, 2005 by

E. Harris Nober

1 comment

Categories: Education, Scientists

ehnober.jpgE. Harris Nober, an educator whose study of smoke detectors helped save countless lives, died on May 23 of liver cancer. He was 77.
After serving in the Coast Guard for two years, Nober earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brooklyn College and a doctorate in experimental psychology from Ohio State University. From 1969 to 1998, he taught communications disorders at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Nober always had an interest in how people reacted to sounds and spent the early part of his career working in a hospital as a speech-language pathologist. Then in 1978, he began researching how loud a fire alarm should be and how long it would take a family to react to its call.
Nober’s study, which was funded by what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, involved installing smoke detectors in 80 area homes. After waiting for several weeks, he used a remote control to test the alarms. Nober then examined the response times of people who slept behind closed doors, those who had drunk alcohol the night before, parents of newborns and the elderly. On average, it took three minutes for people to wake up, call the fire department and leave their house.
Using this data, Nober was able to find the perfect sound level required to awaken even the deepest of sleepers. His work set the standard noise level for most of the smoke alarms on the market today. He also designed smoke detectors for the deaf that utilized flashing strobe lights and vibration mechanisms.
Nober co-edited the 1997 textbook, “Introduction to Communication Disorders: A Multicultural Approach,” with Charlena Seymour, and received the Career Award in Hearing from the American Association of Audiology. He was a fellow and charter member of the American Academy of Audiology and a fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

One Response to E. Harris Nober

  1. Jerome D. Schein

    My recollections of Dr. Nober emphasize his dedication to research that improved lives, especially of those who were deaf. Because of his brilliant designs and their careful execution, he gained the respect of scientists and engineers. Because he was a true gentleman, he earned the high regard of those who had the privilege of knowing him personally. I am sad that I only learned of his death this evening. He leaves a rich legacy of fine professional accomplishments and of pleasant friendships. Nothing I can say to his wife and children will assuage the hurts that his too early death must have caused, except to hope that those feelings will soon be replaced by pride in the excellence of the life he led.

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