James West, CST '56 wins John Scott Award

James West, CST '56, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University and a pioneer in acoustics, has won the prestigious John Scott Award for contributing to the “comfort, welfare and happiness” of humankind. Past Scott Award winner include Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, R. Buckminster Fuller, Jonas Salk and Nikola Tesla.

West is being honored for inventions relating to the foil electret microphone.  

Originally a pre-med student at another university, West earned his AS degree focusing on physics. “Temple was a real transition point for me,” remembers West. “It is where I began to do what I really loved.”

What began as a summer job at Bell Laboratories, turned into a 40-year career. During his tenure with Bell, West helped develop a highly sensitive, inexpensive microphone. In fact, nearly every device that amplifies sound—including baby monitors, hearing aids, video cameras and telephones—is possible because of West’s extensive contributions to the field of acoustics. He holds more than 250 patents for various microphones and techniques for making polymer electrets and transducers. Research is West’s passion. “I'm a lab rat,” West says. “Nature knows how to throw you a curveball, so you have to be ready for anything in research.”

Professor West's many awards and honors include the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor bestowed to an inventor in the U.S.; the Acoustical Society of America’s Gold Medal; the Industrial Research Institute’s Achievement Award; and 1995 “Inventor of the Year” from the state of New Jersey. He has been inducted into the Inventors  Hall of Fame and, along with Gerhard Sessler, received the Franklin Institute’s Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering. Professor West has received six honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Michigan State University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Morgan State University.

Throughout his career, he has staunchly advocated for diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). His advice for students, particularly students of color and women who are underrepresented in STEM fields, is “science is harder, but do not back away from technology. Stay with the hard stuff now, and the rewards will be worth it later on.”

Three CST faculty members have won the Scott Award: Masatoshi Nei, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Biology; John Perdew, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Physics and Chemistry; and Franklin A. Davis, professor emeritus of chemistry. Madeleine Joullie, professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania who currently serves on CST’s Board of Visitors, was also honored in 2015.​