Thursday, February 15, 2007

African-American Scientists: Shirley Ann Jackson

Continuing my celebration of Black History Month, this week's featured African-American scientist is Shirley Ann Jackson, a theoretical physicist, world expert in nuclear regulation, and current president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

A good profile:

Dr. Jackson is the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from M.I.T. — in any subject. She is one of the first two African-American women to receive a doctorate in physics in the U.S. She is the first African-American to become a Commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She is both the first woman and the first African-American to serve as the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and now the first African-American woman to lead a national research university. She also is the first African-American woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Shirley Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., in 1946. Strongly supported by her parents, she excelled in school, attending accelerated classes in math and science, and graduating in 1964 as valedictorian. She immediately entered M.I.T., studying theoretical physics while volunteering at the Boston City Hospital and the YMCA. Four years later she graduated with her bachelors degree, writing her dissertation on solid-state physics (which was at the forefront of theoretical physics at the time). Although accepted at Brown, Harvard, and the University of Chicago, Jackson decided to stay at MIT for her doctoral work, because she wanted to encourage more African American students to attend the institution. She earned her Ph.D. in elemental particle theory in1973.

In the '70s, Jackson focused on high-energy particle physics, including work at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. In the '80s and early '90s she worked on a wide array of physics including energy superlattices, superconductors, neutrino research, quantum physics, and opto-electronic materials, preparing or collaborating on over 100 scientific articles.

From 1991 to 1995, Dr. Jackson was professor of physics at Rutgers University, where she taught undergraduate and graduate students, conducted research on the electronic and optical properties of two-dimensional systems, and supervised Ph.D. candidates. She concurrently served as a consultant in semiconductor theory to AT&T Bell Laboratories

By the mid-'90s Jackson increasingly became affiliated with politics and nuclear policy. In 1995 President Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Jackson to serve as Chairperson of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), continuing until 1999. As Chairperson, she was the principal executive officer of and the official spokesperson for the NRC. While in this role, Jackson worked with a number of world organizations and served as a liaison between our nation and others for nuclear issues, including the International Atomic Energy Agency. Jackson served 10 years as a member of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, appointed by the governor.

Jackson holds an amazing 40 honorary doctoral degrees, including at Harvard University, and holds more awards than I could reasonably list here. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998 for her significant and profound contributions as a distinguished scientist and advocate for education, science, and public policy. She was inducted into the Women in Technology International Foundation Hall of Fame (WITI) in June 2000. WITI recognizes women technologists and scientists whose achievements are exceptional.

Since 1999, Shirley Jackson has served as the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, New York. Dr. Jackson is married to Dr. Morris A. Washington, also a physicist. They have one son, Alan, a graduate of Dartmouth College.


Anonymous said...

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