Shirley Ann Jackson : American Physicist

Shirley Ann Jackson is a renowned physicist and university president. Described as “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science” by Time Magazine, Dr. Jackson is a pioneer in science who had successfully held senior-most positions in research and government with utmost confidence. 

Women Hall Of Fame Shirley Ann Jackson

Early Childhood

She was born on August 5, 1946, to soft-spoken and encouraging parents in Washington DC. While her mother was a postal worker, her father was a 

hard-working man who served the US army. During her childhood days, her father ignited her interest in science by assisting her in school projects. 


Shirley Ann Jackson joined the Barnard Elementary School in 1954, where she developed immense respect for her black female teachers.

In 1964, she did her graduation from Roosevelt High School and became interested in maths. She started her college life at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after getting encouragement from her high school principal. 

You will be surprised to know that she was one of the few African American students who were attending the prestigious MIT.

The unwelcoming environment of the college campus soon maker her distant from her peers, the majority of whom were white Americans.

Soon, she joined the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which was dedicated to public service, and become its president when she was during her initial days at MIT.

So, Shirley Ann Jackson started volunteering at a hospital in Boston City Hospital. 

In 1973, completed her graduation along with a Ph.D. degree in theoretical elementary particle physics.

In fact, she was the first woman to achieve this incredible feat in the history of MIT. Her Ph.D. thesis was ‘The Study of a Multiperipheral Model with Continued Cross-Channel Unitarity’, and it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal in 1975. 


Shirley Ann Jackson gets hired by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory at Batavia for the post of research associate.

However, she left the laboratory after two years and joined the European Organization For Nuclear Research in Switzerland as a visiting science associate.

In 1975, Shirley Ann Jackson again joined the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

It was her stint at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey that helped her to make rapid progress in her professional career. She also met her future husband while working at the Bell Labs in 1976. 

Shirley Ann Jackson performs extensive research work in the field of theoretical, quantum, optical, and solid-state physics at Bell Labs.

In 1991 while still doing her research work, she joined Rutgers University as a faculty.

In 1994, Dr. Jackson received a call from President Bill Clinton to join the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She worked as the head of the NRC and brought a radical change in NRC’s history, which was both philosophical and practical.

Dr. Jackson makes use of sophisticated computer modeling to make judgments regarding a myriad of problems that can occur in nuclear power plants.

She also makes multiple international efforts to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants and even helped the former Soviet Union to seal the radioactive contamination after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

In 1998, Shirley Ann Jackson thought she had accomplished much of her mission at NRC, and so she left the organization and joined the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) as president. 


Although Shirley Ann Jackson was a recipient of several awards, some of the notable ones are as follows: 

1993- New Jersey Governor’s Award in Science

2000- Golden Torch Award for Lifetime Achievement in Academia

2000- 100 Women of Excellence Award 

2001- Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award

2001- Black Engineer of the Year Award

2007- National Science Board’s Vannevar Bush Award

2008- L’Oreal USA For Women in Science Role Model Award

2016- National Medal of Science by US President Barack Obama

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson also has the membership of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In fact, she has more than 20 doctoral degrees. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *