Black Inventors and Innovators - James West
James Edward West was born on February 10, 1931 in PrinceEdwardCounty, Virginia. Ever since West was a little boy he was fascinated by electronics always taking things apart to see how they worked and then putting them back together again. This interest would almost lead to his undoing when he was eight years old. At the time he thought he had fixed a broken radio and plugged it into a ceiling outlet while standing on the brass frame of his bed. What ended up happening was that West had a bolt of electricity shoot through his body temporarily paralyzing him. Luckily his brother was there to knock him on the floor to stop the electricity from shocking him. Most children would be afraid but this experience only intrigued West more and so would start his fascination with science.
After high school West went to TempleUniversity where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. During school he worked as an intern for Bell Laboratories in the Acoustics Research Department. Once West graduated he was hired by Bell Laboratories as an acoustical scientist specializing in electro-acoustics, physical and architectural acoustics.
Years later West would work with Gerhard Sessler, a German-born Physicist, to develop an inexpensive yet highly sensitive and very compact microphone. Microphones that were used in telephones at that time were very expensive to manufacture and impractical for everyday home usage. So West and Sessler came up with the electret microphone. The electret microphone was inexpensive and could hold a charge without being connected to a power source, was compact and durable so it could be used daily in a house or at the office. The pair received a patent for their electro-acoustic transducer which the microphones of today are based on and used in hearing aids, camcorders and almost all telephones.
West has obtained well over 100 patents and contributed to hundreds of books and technical papers on acoustics and physics. West has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career and has never lost sight in the importance of science to all.
West’s most important work to date has been as an advocate working on several projects and programs to increase minority and female participation in the field of science.