James E. West, Ph.D.

Professor, Electrical and Computer EngineeringJohns Hopkins University
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Dr. James West, a 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, Dr. 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 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,” Dr. West 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, Dr. West 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).

Read more about Dr. West in this Q&A with U.S. News & World Report.