James West is a professor of electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering.
He 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 are based (such as telephones, sound and music recording equipment, and hearing aids). West developed the invention with his research partner Gerhard Sessler in 1962 while both were scientists at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hills, NJ.
West 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. 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, 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).
West graduated from Temple University in 1957 with a degree in physics.