James E. West


Diversity Champion

Primary Appointment: Electrical and Computer Engineering

Research Interests

Development of Piezoelectric Polymer Composite Fibers for Energy Harvesting and Acoustic Transducers for air and water applications


Dr. James West, a research professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University, is known worldwide as the co-inventor of the foil electret microphone. This is a type of condenser microphone upon which 90 percent of all microphones used today (such as in telephones, sound and music recording equipment, and hearing aids) are based. Dr. West developed the invention with his research partner Gerhard Sessler in 1962 while both were scientists at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hills, NJ.

In fact, James holds more than 60 U.S. patents and more than 200 foreign patents using polymer foil electrets in transducers during his 40-year career with Bell Laboratories, where he had worked as an acoustical scientist since graduating in 1957 from Temple University with a degree in Physics. He has also authored or contributed to more than 150 technical papers and several books on acoustics, solid-state physics and materials science.

Upon retiring from Bell in 2001, he joined Johns Hopkins University as a research professor in his current position, and the transition to academia has been much to his liking. “I discovered that Johns Hopkins is a lot like Bell Labs, where the doors are always open and we are free to collaborate with researchers in other disciplines,” James says. “I like the fact that I’m not locked into one small niche here. I wanted to be in an environment that allowed 360 degrees of vision.”

His research at Johns Hopkins includes efforts to improve teleconferencing technology by transmitting stereophonic sound over the Internet and new transducers. In addition, James has long been known for being a mentor to students, and for being active in initiating and participating in programs aimed at encouraging more minorities and women to enter the fields of science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM).


Awards and Honors

John Scott Medal (2018)

U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation

Honorary Doctorate from Temple University (2014)

Honorary Doctorate from University of Pennsylvania (2013)

Benjamin Franklin Medical Award in Electrical Engineering

National Inventors Hall of Fame

National Academy of Engineering (1998)



Journal Articles
  • Shin K, Jeon J, West JE, Moon W (2015).  A micro-machined microphone based on a combination of electret and field-effect transistor.  Sensors (Switzerland).  15(8).
  • Ellington LE, Emmanouilidou D, Elhilali M, Gilman RH, Tielsch JM, Chavez MA, Marin-Concha J, Figueroa D, West J, Checkley W (2014).  Developing a reference of normal lung sounds in healthy Peruvian children.  Lung.  192(5).
  • Ellington LE, Emmanouilidou D, Elhilali M, Gilman RH, Tielsch JM, Chavez MA, Marin-Concha J, Figueroa D, West J, Checkley W (2014).  Developing a Reference of Normal Lung Sounds in Healthy Peruvian Children.  Lung.  doi: 10.1007/s00408-014-9608-3.
  • Ren K, West JE, Michael Yu S (2014).  Planar microphone based on piezoelectric electrospun poly(γ-benzyl- α,L-glutamate) nanofibers.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.  135(6).
Book Chapters
  • Atkins J, West JE (2015).  Spatial audio and room acoustics.  Acoustics, Information, and Communication: Memorial Volume in Honor of Manfred R. Schroeder.
Back to top