“Linc Hawkins joined Bell Labs in 1942, which was before Jackie Robinson broke into baseball. But everybody knows Jackie Robinson; very few people know of Lincoln Hawkins. So he’s my hero,” West says. Hawkins was instrumental in recruiting other minorities to Bell and the sciences in general, and those efforts helped instill the same drive for equality and mentorship in West.
While at Bell, West co-invented, with Gerhard Sessler, the foil-electret microphone in 1962. Perhaps one of the most pervasive pieces of technology of the modern era, electret microphones represented a leap in acoustics. They could be made extraordinarily small compared to their predecessors, and they were durable and highly sensitive without requiring a battery source like most other microphones in use at the time, thus enabling a near-limitless range of applications. By current estimates, more than two billion electret microphones are manufactured every year as components in everything from headsets and smartphones to hearing aids and tablets.