(1931-)

Who Is James West?

James West attended Temple University before working for Bell Labs. Along with Gerhard M. Sessler, he developed the foil electret microphone, an inexpensive, compact device that is now used in 90 percent of all contemporary microphones. A prolific writer as well, West has more than 250 patents and became a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Early Life

West was born on February 10, 1931, in Prince Edward County, Virginia. As a child, he was intrigued by how things worked and enjoyed taking apart appliances. “If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger,” West would later recollect. “I had this need to know what was inside.”

After an accident with a radio he had tinkered with, West became enthralled with the concept of electricity. He knew he wanted to pursue his interest in science academically, though his parents were concerned about future job prospects for an African American scientist, due to the racism and Jim Crow laws of the South. They preferred for him to become a physician.

Education

Undeterred, West headed to Temple University in 1953 to study physics and worked during the summers as an intern for the Acoustics Research Department at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. He received a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1957, and was hired for a full-time position as an acoustical scientist by Bell.

READ More:   Instructions on how to make delicious stewed beef with soy sauce

Develops Electret Microphone

In 1960, while at Bell, West teamed up with fellow scientist Gerhard M. Sessler to develop an inexpensive, highly sensitive, compact microphone. In 1962, they finished development on the product, which relied on their invention of electret transducers. By 1968, the electret microphone was in mass production. West’s and Sessler’s invention became the industry standard, and today, 90 percent of all contemporary microphones — including the ones found in telephones, tape recorders, camcorders, baby monitors and hearing aids — use their technology.

Years later, West was appointed president-elect of the Acoustical Society of America in 1997 and joined the National Academy of Engineering in 1998. And both West and Sessler were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999. West has also worked with initiatives to entreat women and students of color to explore and pursue careers in the fields of science and technology.

Joins Johns Hopkins University

West retired from Bell in 2001, after more than four decades with the company. After interviewing with several universities, he chose Johns Hopkins and became a research professor at its Whiting School of Engineering in the electrical/computer engineering department.

“I discovered that Johns Hopkins was a lot like Bell Labs, where the doors were always open and we were free to collaborate with researchers in other disciplines,” he said in a statement. “I like the fact that I won’t be locked into one small niche here.”

During his career, West has received an array of accolades and honors as well as developing more than 250 patents on microphones and related discoveries involving polymer-foil electrets. Known for being humanistic in his approach to working with others, he has also been a prolific writer, having authored and/or contributed to a number of scientific papers and books.

READ More:   Jasmine Plummer

QUICK FACTS

  • Name: James West
  • Birth Year: 1931
  • Birth date: February 10, 1931
  • Birth State: Virginia
  • Birth City: Prince Edward County
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: James West is a U.S. inventor and professor who, in 1962, developed the electret transducer technology later used in 90 percent of contemporary microphones.
  • Industries
    • Radio
    • Music
    • Technology and Engineering
    • Science and Medicine
  • Astrological Sign: Aquarius
  • Schools
    • Temple University

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness.If you see something that doesn’t look right,contact us!

CITATION INFORMATION

  • Article Title: James West Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/inventors/james-west
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: January 19, 2021
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014

QUOTES

  • In those days in the South, the only professional jobs that seemed to be open to a black man were a teacher, a preacher, a doctor or a lawyer. My father introduced me to three black men who had earned doctorates in chemistry and physics. The best jobs they could find were at the post office.
  • My hobby is my work. I have the best of both worlds because I love what I do. Do I ever get tired of it? Not so far.
  • If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger. I had this need to know what was inside.
  • I discovered that Johns Hopkins [University] was a lot like Bell Labs, where the doors were always open and we were free to collaborate with researchers in other disciplines. I like the fact that I won’t be locked into one small niche here.
Headshot of Biography.com Editors

Biography.com Editors
Staff Editorial Team and Contributors

The Biography.com staff is a team of people-obsessed and news-hungry editors with decades of collective experience. We have worked as daily newspaper reporters, major national magazine editors, and as editors-in-chief of regional media publications. Among our ranks are book authors and award-winning journalists. Our staff also works with freelance writers, researchers, and other contributors to produce the smart, compelling profiles and articles you see on our site. To meet the team, visit our About Us page: https://www.biography.com/about/a43602329/about-us

READ More:   Eat while being scared with horror cake recipes for Halloween