Shirley Ann Jackson

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Shirley Ann Jackson

Birth: August 5, 1946

Specialty: Theoretical Physics

Major Contributions:

First African-American woman to earn a PhD from MIT

First African-American woman to lead top ranked research university

Co-Chair of President’s Intelligence Advisory Board

Image: World Economic Forum (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

While serving as the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson transformed the oldest technical research university in the United States into a well ranked world-class technical research university.

Appointed in 1999, she brought a strategic vision known as The Rensselaer Plan to the campus which now has state-of-the-art research platforms including centers for biotechnology, experimental media, and computational innovations – the home of the most powerful supercomputer at a private American university.

And this isn’t the first time Jackson has been a leader in technological fields, completing her post-doctoral research at Fermi Lab and CERN before she was hired at AT&T Bell Labs. Spending 15 years at the lab she conducted breakthrough research on the optical and electronic properties of layered materials, strained-layer semiconductor super lattices, surface electrons of liquid helium films, and the polaronic aspects of electrons in two-dimensional systems. Writing or co-writing over 100 scientific articles on these subjects, she opened the door for others to invent things like touch tone telephones, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID.

In 1995 she became a leader in the public service sector as well. Appointed to a four-year term as the Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she was the first woman and first African American to hold this position. Jackson then served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology from 2009-2014, including two years where she was also on the National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Currently a member of the Global Board of the Nature Conservancy, she stepped down from the Presidency of Rensselaer in 2022 after 23 years, leaving behind a legacy of leadership and innovation. For her work Jackson has received many major honors, including the inaugural Alice H. Parker Award from the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the National Medal of Science, the United States’ highest honor for contributions in science and engineering.

Written by Angela Goad


The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson PhD, D.L. (Hon.), D.Sc. (Hon.), NAE

The Nature Conservancy Our People: Shirley Ann Jackson Jackson, Shirley Ann (1946-)

Famous Black Inventors: Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, Telecommunications Research

See Also:

C-SPAN: Q&A with Shirley Ann Jackson

The legacy of physicist Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson l ABC News

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission