USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

Celebrating African American History Month with Role Models In STEM: Dr. James West

USA Science & Engineering Festival Speaker, Dr. James West, an Acoustical Scientist from Johns Hopkins University turned his childhood curiosity into a career of invention!

James Edward West

Looking back on his childhood days in Prince Edward County, Virginia, acoustical scientist James Edward West, says curiosity ruled his life. “If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger,” remembers James with a laugh. That curiosity soon evolved into a keen interest in the mysteries of electricity, he says. “I became fascinated by electricity, just completely fascinated. I needed to learn everything I could about it.”

If you’ve ever used such devices as a telephone, tape recorder or music recording equipment, you’ve most likely used Dr. West’s invention. He, with his research partner Gerhard Sessler, developed the foil electret microphone in 1962 while they were scientists at Bell Laboratories. Ninety percent of microphones used today are based on the ingenuity and principles of this invention. An electret microphone is a type of condenser microphone, which eliminates the need for a polarizing power supply by using a permanently charged material. Although electret materials have been known since the 1920s and were proposed as condenser microphone elements several times, these models were considered impractical until the foil electret type was invented by Dr. West and his partner.

Read more about Dr. West here.

Comments

  1. #1 Candice H. Brown Elliott
    Silicon Valley
    February 20, 2016

    I had the very great pleasure of meeting Dr. West at the 125th Anniversary of the USPTO in Arlington last spring. A very gracious and intelligent man. I was honored to have shared the stage with him as we participated in panel talk about inventions and how we felt about the creative process.

    I urge everyone to learn more about this great inventor, an inductee in the National Inventors Hall of Fame!