By Elizabeth BehringFebruary 12, 2018
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- It was a young man's devotion to science that led him straight from the halls of graduate school at Princeton University to Army fatigues, a decision that eventually helped the Army understand how changes in hearing impact Soldier readiness.
That man is Dr. G. Richard Price, a career Army scientist who graduated from the Ivy League in 1963, earned an Army commission and went to work at the U.S. Army Human Engineering Laboratory's Supporting Research Laboratory before swapping his uniform for a lab coat in 1965. HEL was later absorbed into the Army Research Laboratory's present-day Human Research and Engineering Directorate.
Price, now an ARL Fellow Guest Emeritus, was inducted into the Army Materiel Command Hall of Fame during a ceremony at AMC Headquarters, Feb. 6, partly for his role in developing a theoretical understanding of the human ear's function at high-intensity noise levels.
In the 1960s, suitable research facilities did not yet exist, so Price -- whose undergraduate and graduate degrees are in physiological psychology -- designed, equipped and supervised the construction of an auditory electrophysiological research laboratory. That lab later became the Army's first to have an animal research facility accredited by the American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.
During the same time period, while the Army was making great strides in the development of new weapons and machinery, it didn't have specific rules regarding safety and the long-term effects of noise pollution. Price recalled an instance where a Soldier did not want to slow down in the process of firing an AT-4 - a disposable, single-use anti-tank weapon - so he went without hearing protection. As a result, he instantly went deaf and was discharged from service.
This life-changing event was something Price did not want to see happen to others, and he realized the Army had an urgent responsibility, not only to promote combat effectiveness, but to ensure Soldier safety while advancing its developments.
But while protecting hearing is laudable, Price and his team were charged with proving whether hearing loss made a difference to the overall success of the Army, right then, or if it was something that could be addressed individually by the Veteran's Administration when that service member separated from service.
The team, which included Price's colleague, Dr. Joel Kalb, discovered hearing loss was not just a residual after-effect of one's military service, it impacted the mission in ways commanders had not necessarily noticed before. That included the inability to hear orders or messages or to detect and identify combat-relevant sounds. For example, the research indicates a 10 percent reduction in speech intelligibility for a tank crewman decreases mission success by 10 percent.
The team devised a mathematical model of the human auditory system that predicts the hazard from any free-field pressure and produces analytical algorithms that reproduce ear behavior. That model, the Auditory Hazard Assessment Algorithm for Humans, is still the only method of assessing noise hazard for the entire range of impulses that are relevant to all of DOD. It was peer-reviewed by the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 2001, adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers in 2003 and is also currently used by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Further, the U.S. Army Public Health Command uses AHAAH to gain additional insight into health hazard assessments, and is being proposed as an American National Standards Institute standard method for analysis of impulsive noise.
Price's work resulted in the development and fielding of a new hearing protective device: the combat arms earplug, which is designed to protect the wearer's hearing while maintaining auditory situational awareness.
These toggle-valved earplugs, which come in different sizes and are stored in a small green plastic case, are standard issue to Soldiers today-and are required to be worn on weapons ranges, in tanks and Humvees, while firing mortar and in other situations where hearing can be impacted.
Though Price's work was included in DOD analytical models of combat systems, his research has further significance in the civilian world. Later in his career, Price's team collaborated with General Motors, Johns Hopkins University and SAE to try to reduce the sound airbags make when they deploy. Air bags, which can deploy in less than a tenth of a second, are inflated by a large pulse of hot nitrogen gas - the equivalent of a solid rocket booster, or as much energy as a Howitzer crew feels when that piece of artillery is fired, according to Price.
Price retired from federal service in 1999, but his continued dedication has been recognized in the form of five fellowships - including one at ARL and one at Princeton University. He also received an Army Research and Technology Award, the ARL Lifetime Achievement Award and was a keynote speaker at a NATO symposium, the Institute of Noise Control Engineering and the National Hearing Conservation Association, the latter presenting him with the Outstanding Hearing Conservationist Award in 2007.