If you’ve ever called out to Siri, Alexa, or Google and got a response from the device you were using, you’re talking to a microphone designed by Dr. James E. West and his colleague Gerhard Sessler.  

West is an inventor and professor who helped create the Electret Microphone, an invention that accounts for 90 percent of all microphones producing clear and crisp sound today, according to Biography.com. He was born on Feb. 10, 1931, in Farmville, VA. West received his bachelor’s degree from Temple University in 1957 and soon after graduating, was employed by Bell Laboratories.

While working at Bell, he teamed up with fellow scientist, Gerhard Sessler and the duo created a device that eliminated the need for an external power source to convert sound into an electrical signal. By 1968, the electret microphone was the industry standard.

West used the momentum from his professional success at Bell Labs to lead minority internship and hiring initiatives. According to U.S. News, he also works with a Baltimore based STEM program to help young people get into the field. 

Forty years at Bell Labs, 60 U.S. patents, 200 international patents, and half a dozen honors and awards later, West joined Johns Hopkins University as a research professor in 2001 where he continues to hold the door open for Black and brown aspiring scientists.