Dr. Shirley Jackson is an African in American physicist who received her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973. She was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics at MIT. In addition to her lengthy list of academic achievements, she also has an impressive number of inventions under her belt.
Her experiments with theoretical physics paved the way for numerous developments in the telecommunication space including the touch-tone telephone, the portable fax, caller ID, call waiting, and the fiber-optic cable.
Today, Dr. Shirley Jackson is the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.
Shirley Ann Jackson Biography
Shirley Ann Jackson, FREng (born August 5, 1946) is an American physicist, and the eighteenth president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is the first African-American woman to have earned a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is also the second African-American woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in physics.
Jackson was born in Washington, D.C. and attended Roosevelt Senior High School. After graduation in 1964, she enrolled at MIT to study theoretical physics, earning her B.S. degree in 1968
Jackson was elected to stay at MIT for her doctoral work, and received her Ph.D. degree in nuclear physics in 1973, the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree from MIT. Her research was directed by James Young, a professor in the MIT Center for Theoretical Physics. Jackson is also the second African-American woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in physics. She was featured on the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” Season 6 Episode 7, where she is noted as one of the leading global pioneers in science all while knowing little about her ancestry. In 2002, Discover magazine recognized her as one of the 50 most important women in science.
Jackson has described her interests thus:
I am interested in the electronic, optical, magnetic, and transport properties of novel semiconductor systems. Of special interest are the behavior of magnetic polarons in semimagnetic and dilute magnetic semiconductors, and the optical response properties of semiconductor quantum-wells and superlattices. My interests also include quantum dots, mesoscopic systems, and the role of antiferromagnetic fluctuations in correlated 2D electron systems
Jackson joined the Theoretical Physics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1976, examining the fundamental properties of various materials. She began her time at Bell Labs by studying materials to be used in the semiconductor industry. She worked in the Scattering and Low Energy Physics Research Department from 1978, and moved to the Solid State and Quantum Physics Research Department in 1988. At Bell Labs, Jackson researched the optical and electronic properties of two-dimensional and quasi-two-dimensional systems.
Jackson served on the faculty at Rutgers University in Piscataway and New Brunswick, New Jersey from 1991 to 1995, in addition to continuing to consult with Bell Labs on semiconductor theory. Her research during this time focused on the electronic and optical properties of two-dimensional systems.
Although some sources claim that Jackson conducted scientific research while working at Bell Laboratories that enabled others to invent the portable fax, touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting, Jackson herself makes no such claim. Moreover, these telecommunications advancements significantly predated her arrival at Bell Labs in 1976, with these six specifically-enumerated inventions actually occurring by others in the time frame between 1954 and 1970.
Shirley Jackson is married to Morris A. Washington, a physics professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and has one son, Alan, a Dartmouth College alumnus. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.Shirley Ann Jackson and her husband were named in the inaugural class of the Capital Region Philanthropy Hall of Fame
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