Spotlight: James West

Acoustician and Inventor
Johns Hopkins University

Jim West was born in 1931 in Prince Edward County, Virginia, and studied physics at Temple University, much to the displeasure of his parents, who wanted him to become a doctor. “My father introduced me to three black men who had earned doctorates in chemistry and physics,” says West. “The best jobs they could find were at the post office. My father said I was taking the long road toward working at the post office.”

Specializing in microphones, West went on to author 200 patents. In 1962, with Gerhard Sessler, West developed the foil electret microphone. Recently, after a distinguished 40-year career, including stints at Lucent Technologies and as a Bell Laboratories Fellow, West moved to Johns Hopkins University where he is a research professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. West also founded the Association of Black Laboratory Employees.

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A hospital room is the last place you’d expect to get some rest–overhead pages and beeping instruments keep patients up all night. And the problem is only getting worse.


Sound Laser

November 22, 2005

One listener asks: Can sound be directed into a beam, like a laser? The answer might surprise you.