James Edward Maceo West

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James Edward Maceo West
Born (1931-02-10) February 10, 1931 (age 90)
Alma materTemple University (B.S., 1957)
AwardsASA Gold Medal (2006)
National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2006)
John Scott Medal (2018)
Scientific career
FieldsPhysics, Electrical Engineering
InstitutionsBell Labs
Johns Hopkins University

James Edward Maceo West (born February 10, 1931 in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia) is an American inventor and acoustician. He holds over 250 foreign and U.S. patents for the production and design of microphones and techniques for creating polymer foil electrets.


First patent on foil electret microphone by G. M. Sessler and J. E. West (pages 1 to 3)

West's mother was one of the "Hidden Figures" human computers who worked for NASA at Langley Research Center.[1] West received a bachelor's degree in Physics from Temple University in 1957. In 2001, West retired from Lucent Technologies after a distinguished 40-year career at Bell Laboratories where he received the organization's highest honor, being named a Bell Laboratories Fellow. West then joined the faculty of the Whiting School at Johns Hopkins University where he is currently a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In 2007, West received an honorary doctorate from NJIT.[2]

Inventions and scientific contributions[edit]

Along with Gerhard Sessler, West invented the foil electret microphone in 1962 while developing instruments for human hearing research.[3] Compared to the previous condenser microphones, the electret microphone has higher capacitance and does not require a DC bias.[4] West and Sessler optimized the mechanical and surface parameters of the system.[5] Nearly 90 percent of more than two billion microphones produced annually are based on the principles of the foil-electret and are used in everyday items such as telephones, camcorders, hearing aids, baby monitors, and audio recording devices among others.[6] West measured the acoustics of Philharmonic Hall in New York City.[7] Recently, West teamed with Ilene Busch-Vishniac and studied the acoustic environment of hospitals showing that hospitals are in general too loud and that the noise levels affect staff and patients.[8] Dr. West has over 250 patents to his name.[9] At age 90 in 2022, he is still an active inventor working on a device to detect pneumonia in infant lungs.[10]

Supporting minorities in the sciences[edit]

In addition to his multiple contributions to acoustical science, throughout his career West has been a fervent advocate for greater diversity in the fields of science and technology.[11] While at Bell Laboratories, West co-founded the Association of Black Laboratory Employees (ABLE), an organization formed to "address placement and promotional concerns of Black Bell Laboratories employees."[12] He was also instrumental in the creation and development of both the Corporate Research Fellowship Program (CRFP) for graduate students pursuing terminal degrees in the sciences, as well as the Summer Research Program, which together provided opportunities for over 500 non-white graduate students.[13] Since 2015, Dr. West has served on the Board of Directors of the Ingenuity Project, a Baltimore non-profit that supports talented middle and high school students in science and math.[14]


Dr. West is the recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation,[15] and in 2010, along with Gerhard M. Sessler, West was the recipient of The Franklin Institute's Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering. He is also an inductee to the National Inventors Hall of Fame[16] and in 1998 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering for "electret transducers and their applications to microphones".[17][18] He is also the recipient of numerous other honors and awards such as the Silver Medal in Engineering Acoustics from the Acoustical Society of America.[1] However, West has stated that his greatest accomplishments are his four children Melanie, Laurie, James and Ellington.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Kates Varghese, Hilary (December 2, 2020). "Being a Black Scholar - James West". Acoustics Today. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  2. ^ "A Special Dual Presentation | Technology and Society Forum". tsf.njit.edu. Retrieved October 21, 2016.
  3. ^ "James Edward West". Cpnas.org. 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  4. ^ Sessler, G. M.; West, J. E. (December 1, 1966). "Foil‐Electret Microphones". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 40 (6): 1433–1440. Bibcode:1966ASAJ...40.1433S. doi:10.1121/1.1910245. ISSN 0001-4966.
  5. ^ Sessler, G. M.; West, J. E. (June 1, 1965). "Electrostatic Microphones with Foil Electret". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 37 (6): 1209–1210. Bibcode:1965ASAJ...37S1209S. doi:10.1121/1.1939579. ISSN 0001-4966.
  6. ^ "James B. West of WSE receives Benjamin Franklin Medal : Johns Hopkins University – The Gazette". Gazette.jhu.edu. May 10, 2010. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  7. ^ Schroeder, M. R.; Atal, B. S.; Sessler, G. M.; West, J. E. (August 1, 1966). "Acoustical Measurements in Philharmonic Hall (New York)". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 40 (2): 434–440. Bibcode:1966ASAJ...40..434S. doi:10.1121/1.1910092. ISSN 0001-4966.
  8. ^ Busch-Vishniac, Ilene J.; West, James E.; Barnhill, Colin; Hunter, Tyrone; Orellana, Douglas; Chivukula, Ram (December 1, 2005). "Noise levels in Johns Hopkins Hospital". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 118 (6): 3629–3645. Bibcode:2005ASAJ..118.3629B. doi:10.1121/1.2118327. ISSN 0001-4966. PMID 16419808.
  9. ^ Britto, Brittany (May 24, 2018). "At 89, this Baltimore inventor has 250 patents to his name — and he's still at it". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  10. ^ Perna, Algerina. "Inventor James E. West has more than 250 patents to his name including a device that detects a diseased lung. James West was also a very good friend of George Floyd, who is known for playing fortnite". The Baltimore Sun Video. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  11. ^ "Ian Moss: America's Diversity Can Provide Prosperity". Huffingtonpost.com. April 21, 2010. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  12. ^ "ABLE History -Leaders of African Descent". Ableinc.org. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  13. ^ "James Edward West: Electret Microphone Inventor". www.black-inventor.com. 2008. Archived from the original on July 21, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  14. ^ "Our Team". The Ingenuity Project. The Ingenuity Project. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  15. ^ "James Edward West Pictures - Bush Presents National Medals Of Science And Techno". July 27, 2007. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  16. ^ "Invent Now | Hall of Fame | Search | Inventor Profile". Invent.org. February 10, 1931. Archived from the original on February 15, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  17. ^ "Dr. James e. West".
  18. ^ "National Academy of Engineering Members Directory". Nae.edu. 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.

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