James West

Personal

First Name: James
Last Name: West

Education

Degree: B.S.
Graduation Year: 1957

Summary

Jim West is perhaps best known for his contributions to the foil-electret microphone, which he co-invented with Gerhard Sessler in 1962.

Biography

Jim West was born in 1931 Prince Edward County Virginia. Curiosity ruled his life. "If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger,"Mr. West recalled of his childhood. "I had this need to know what was inside." When James E. West was 8 years old, he propped himself on his bed's brass footboard one afternoon and stretched to plug the cord of a radio he had repaired into a ceiling outlet. It was one of his first experiments. Mr. West's hand sealed to the light socket as 120 volts of electricity shimmied through his body, freezing him in place until his brother knocked him from the footboard and onto the floor. "I became fascinated by electricity after that, just completely fascinated. I needed to learn everything I could about it." His fascination with electricity lead him to major in 1953 in Physics at Temple University. "In those days in the South, the only professional jobs that seemed to be open to a black man were a teacher, a preacher, a doctor or a lawyer," says West, who was born in Prince Edward County, Va. "My father introduced me to three black men who had earned doctorates in chemistry and physics." These men were not hired by univeristies because there were black." The best jobs they could find were at the post office." So West's parents wanted him to study medicine, but instead he focused on Physics. " My father said I was taking the long road toward working at the post office." West is perhaps best known, however, for his contributions to the foil-electret microphone, which he co-invented with Gerhard Sessler in 1962. Nearly 90 percent of all microphones built today are based on the principles of the foil-electret. In the electret microphone, thin sheets of polymer electret film are metal-coated on one side to form the membrane of the movable plate capacitor that converts sound to electrical signals with high fidelity. The microphone became widely used because of its high performance, accuracy, and reliability, in addition to its low cost, small size, and light weight. Ninety percent of today's microphones are electret microphones, and they are used in everyday items such as telephones, camcorders, and tape recorders. It is the most commonly used microphone in the world.

Lifetime

Year Born: 1931