Born on 5 August 1946 in Washington, DC, Shirley Ann Jackson is a physicist and university president who was the first black woman to receive a doctorate at MIT, in any field, and the second black woman in the US to receive one in physics. Jackson earned both her BS and her PhD at MIT, in 1968 and 1973, respectively. While a graduate student, she worked to recruit more minority students and faculty members to MIT. After a postdoc at Fermilab and a fellowship at CERN, she took a position as a theoretical physicist at Bell Labs in 1976. Her research focused on semiconductors and two-dimensional electron systems. In 1991 she joined the faculty of Rutgers University, where she worked as a professor of theoretical physics until 1995, when she became chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the behest of President Bill Clinton. Since 1999 Jackson has served as president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—the first woman and the first African American to hold the position. At Rensselaer she has been credited with the hiring of several hundred new faculty, extensive new construction and facility renovation, many curriculum innovations, and a doubling of research awards. During the Obama administration, Jackson served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology from 2009 to 2014 and as cochair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board from 2014 to 2017. Jackson is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for which she served as president in 2004. She has also received numerous honors and awards, including more than 50 honorary doctoral degrees. In 2016 Jackson received the National Medal of Science from President Obama. (Photo credit: World Economic Forum/Qilai Shen, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
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Shirley Ann Jackson
5 August 2018
The theoretical physicist has held senior leadership positions in academia, research, industry, and government.
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