Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is credited for being a famous black inventor and one who has made numerous advances in science. Jackson conducted successful experiments in theoretical physics and used her knowledge of physics to foster advances in telecommunications research while working at Bell Laboratories.
Jackson was born in Washington, D.C. Her parents, Beatrice and George Jackson, strongly valued education and encouraged her in school. Her father pushed her interest in science by helping her with projects for her science classes.
At Roosevelt Senior High School, Jackson attended accelerated programs in both math and science and graduated in 1964 as valedictorian. Jackson began classes at MIT in 1964, one of fewer than twenty African-American students and the only one studying theoretical physics. While a student, she did volunteer work at Boston City Hospital and tutored students at the Roxbury YMCA. She earned her B.S. degree in 1968.
As a postdoctoral researcher of subatomic particles during the 1970s, Jackson studied and conducted research at a number of physics laboratories in both the United States and Europe.
In 1976, Dr. Jackson joined the Theoretical Physics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories. In 1978, Dr. Jackson became part of the Scattering and Low Energy Physics Research Department, and in 1988 she moved to the Solid State and Quantum Physics Research Department. Her achievements in science and education have been recognized with multiple awards.
President Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Jackson to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 1995, becoming the first woman and first African American to hold that position. At the NRC, she had “ultimate authority for all NRC functions pertaining to an emergency involving an NRC licensee.” In addition, while Dr. Jackson served on the commission she assisted in the establishment of the International Nuclear Regulators Association.
Dr. Jackson was inducted into National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998 for “her significant contributions as a distinguished scientist and advocate for education, science, and public policy.” On July 1, 1999, Dr. Jackson became the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She was the first woman and first African American to hold this position.