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Shirley Ann Jackson

Shirley Ann Jackson

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson 1946 - 

Credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Shirley Ann Jackson, PhD, is best known for being the first black person to earn a doctoral degree in any field from one of the world’s most premier technologies and engineering focused institutions of higher education, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Jackson’s PhD is in physics, and she was one of the first two black women to ever earn that degree.

After earning her PhD, Jackson worked in Geneva, Switzerland in the European Center for Nuclear Research. Her post-doctoral academic work comprised of, working on theories of ‘strongly interacting elementary particles.’

Jackson served as the chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when appointed by President Clinton in 1995. Her role as chair of the NRC was to preserve the agencies mission. According to NRC that mission was to, “License and regulate the Nation’s civilian use of byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment.” She then led a group of scientists to form the International Nuclear Regulators Association (INRA). She was selected as the INRA’s first chairperson. That group was made up of senior regulatory officials from France, Great Britain, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Japan, and Germany.

The New York Times reports, “From 1976 to 1991, Dr. Jackson conducted research in theoretical physics, solid state and quantum physics, and optical physics at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Her primary research foci were the optical and electronic properties of layered materials including transition metal dichalcogenides, electrons on the surface of liquid helium films, and strained-layer semiconductor superlattices. She is best known for her work on polaronic aspects of electrons in two-dimensional systems.”

It is only fitting that Jackson be president of a school built on “the application of science to the common purposes of life.” Jackson is the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological research university in the United States. She has dedicated her life to advancing science and research, meaning RPI’s mission of ‘applying science to life’s common purpose,’ directly corresponds with her personal views of advancing science education.

Dr. Jackson’s steadfast commitment to education extends beyond Rensselaer, and MIT (where she holds a lifetime trustee position). Jackson is also a trustee at a handful of other schools, including: Georgetown University, Rockefeller University, The Pingry School, and the Emma Willard School.

Jackson’s science genius is everlasting, and her list of accolades could fill a stadium. As a result, Jackson’s contributions to science were immortalized with her induction into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.

Carl Stokes

Carl Stokes

Macon Allen

Macon Allen