Photo Courtesy - Divas and Dorks

Photo Courtesy - Divas and Dorks

Shirley Ann Jackson

Renowned physicist and university president, Shirley Ann Jackson was born on August 5, 1946, in Washington, D.C., to George Hiter Jackson and Beatrice Cosby Jackson. When Shirley Ann was a child, her mother read her the biography of Benjamin Banneker, an African American scientist and mathematician who helped build Washington, D.C. Her also father encouraged her interest in science by assisting her with projects for school. The Space Race of the late-1950s would also have an impact on Jackson as a child, spurring her interest in scientific investigation.

Jackson attended Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., where she took accelerated math and science classes. Jackson graduated as valedictorian and went onto apply to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She was accepted, making Jackson among one of the first African American students to attend MIT and the first woman to earn a PhD in physics in MIT’s history.

After receiving her degree, Jackson was hired as a research associate in theoretical physics at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab. While at Fermilab, Jackson studied medium to large subatomic particles, specifically hadrons, and a subatomic particle with a strong nuclear force. Throughout the 1970s, Jackson would work in this area on Landau theories of charge density waves in one- and two-dimensions, as well as Tang-Mills gauge theories and neutrino reactions.

After two years with the Fermilab, Jackson served as visiting science associate at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. In 1975, Jackson returned to Fermilab, and was simultaneously elected to the MIT Corporation’s Board of Trustees. In 1976, she began working on the technical staff for Bell Telephone laboratories in theoretical physics. Her research focused on the electronic properties of ceramic materials as superconductors of electric currents. While at Bell laboratories, Jackson met her future husband, physicist Morris A. Washington.

In 1980, Jackson became the president of the National Society of Black Physicists and in 1985; she began serving as a member of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. In 1991, Jackson served as a professor at Rutgers while working for AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. In 1995, President Clinton appointed Jackson to the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In 1997, Jackson led the formation of the International Nuclear Regulators Association. In 1998, Jackson was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame; the following year, she became the eighteenth president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Jackson remains an advocate for women and minorities in the sciences and, since 2001, has brought needed attention to the "Quiet Crisis" of America’s predicted inability to innovate in the face of a looming scientific workforce shortage.

Watch Rensselaer President Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson delivering her commencement address during the 2018 Commencement Ceremony.