Johnna's Articles

A Special Daily Resource Shared by Kerry Ruff

Tuesday, February 9th, 2021




James E. West was born on February 10, 1931 in Prince Edward County, Virginia to Samuel Edward and Matilda West. As a child, James was intrigued by how things worked and enjoyed taking appliances apart. “If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger…I had this need to know what was inside.” After being shocked while tinkering with an old radio, Mr. West loved the concept of electricity. He wanted to study science but his parents were concerned about job prospects for an African American scientist due to racism and Jim Crow laws in the South. They wanted him to become a doctor. James would enroll and attend Hampton University with plans of attending medical school but was drafted and sent to serve in the Korean war. While he was overseas, he was awarded the Purple Heart and upon his return to the states, he would transfer to Temple University. He changed his concentration and received his degree in physics in 1957. Mr. West was hired at Bell Laboratories where he studied to obtain his PhD degree. In his second year of his doctorate program, James would work with a colleague to construct a small microphone that was inexpensive, compact, and highly sensitive without requiring the use of a battery. They patented the electret microphone design in 1962. 90% of microphones today use their technology, including those for camcorders, baby monitors, hearing aids, toys as well as audio recording devices and space technology. The microphone features a layer of fluorocarbon polymers on the backplate electrode, carrying a permanent electric charge that is stable.  In 1970, Mr. West co-founded the Association of Black Laboratories Employees (ABLE) at Bell Labs. This organization addressed placement and promotion concerns of Black Bell Laboratories employees. After a distinguished 40-year career at Bell Laboratories, James would join the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University as a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering where he still works at the age of 89. Mr. James E. West has over 100 foreign patents and 47 U.S patents, including a new one for a new device to help detect pneumonia in the lungs of infants. Mr. West believes his greatest accomplishments are his four children. Today we honor the man who continues to modernize the technology of communications with his creative mind. Thank you Mr. West and God Bless you. Thank you. Happy Black History Month.


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