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My Half-Century Experience in Technology and Diversity

About the series

NSF Distinguished Lecture in Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Prof.  JAMES E. WEST  (Johns Hopkins U.)

National Medal of Technology;  National Inventors' Hall of Fame



My nearly half-century career at Bell Labs led to advances in both the sciences and humanities.  First, my research on charge storage and transport in polymers led to finding the right combination of materials and techniques to implant real charge with very long lifetimes.  This made possible the design of high-fidelity microphones at reasonable cost for applications ranging from telephony to professional use.  More than two-billion electret microphones are made each year.  Recognizing the need to attract more under-represented minorities and women to the scientific community, we implemented early two very successful programs, namely the Summer Research Program (SRP) and the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).  The SRP provided an opportunity for several hundred college women and under-represented minorities to have a real laboratory experience each summer, while the GRFP supported more than 500 under-represented minorities and women through their Ph.D. by providing both financial and mentoring support.


Dr. James West is a Research Professor at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He retired as a Bell Laboratories Fellow in 2001.  His pioneering research on charge storage and transport in polymers led to the development of electret transducers for sound recording and voice communication.  Almost 90% of all microphones built today are based on the principles first published by West in the early 1960s.  This simple but rugged transducer is the heart of most new telephones and can be found in most applications from toys to professional equipment.

West holds 47 U.S. and more than 200 foreign patents on various microphones and techniques for making polymer electrets.  He was inducted into the National Inventors' Hall of Fame in 1999 and received the National Medal of Technology in 2006 for the invention of the electret microphone.  West is a member of the National Academy of Engineering; a Fellow and past President of the Acoustical Society of America, and a Fellow of the IEEE.  He currently serves as Chairman of the Johns Hopkins School of Engineering Council on Diversity.  West is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Inventors' Hall of Fame and a member of the National Academy of Engineering's Committee on Diversity in the Engineering Workforce.

West is the recipient of the Callinan Award of the Electrochemical Society of America (1970), the Senior IEEE Acoustics Award (1970), the Latimer Award of the National Patent Law Association (1989), and the New Jersey Inventor of the Year for 1995.  He received the Acoustical Society of America's Silver Medal in Engineering Acoustics (1995), an honorary Doctor of Science degree from NJIT (1997), the Golden Torch Award (1998) of the National Society of Black Engineers, and the Industrial Research Institute's 1998 Achievement Award.

He has authored more than 100 papers and has contributed to several books on acoustics, solid state physics, and materials science.

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