Shirley Ann Jackson

Shirley Ann Jackson, noted physicist and former head of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), was one of the first two Black American women to receive a doctorate in physics in the U.S. and the first to receive a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Jackson was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society for her work in the interaction of electrons on liquid helium films with surface excitations as a polaron problem. As the first Black American woman to serve on the NRC and the first woman and Black American to lead the NRC, Jackson reaffirmed that agency’s commitment to public health and safety.

She enhanced its regulatory effectiveness and initiated a bottom-up strategic assessment of all NRC activities. Committed to promoting social justice, she organized MIT’s Black Student Union and worked to increase the number of Black students entering MIT. After only one year, the number entering rose from 2 to 57. On numerous educational and corporate boards, she works to advance science and the role of women in science. She has led a transformation of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in her role as President.

Jackson’s numerous awards demonstrate the capability of women and minorities to join the leadership ranks in science and technology, education, and public policy. Time magazine has called her “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science.”

Year Honored: 1998
Birth: 1946 -
Born In: District of Columbia
Achievements: Education, Science
Worked In: New York, New Jersey, Maryland
Educated In: Washington, DC; Massachusetts
Schools Attended: Roosevelt High School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology