Shirley Ann Jackson (born August 5, 1946) is an American physicist, and the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She received her Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973, becoming the first African American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT in nuclear physics.
Jackson was born in Washington D.C. Her parents, Beatrice and George Jackson, strongly valued education and encouraged her in school. Her father spurred on her interest in science by helping her with projects for her science classes. At Roosevelt High School, Jackson attended accelerated programs in both math and science, and graduated in 1964 as valedictorian.
Jackson began classes at MIT in 1964, one of fewer than twenty African American students and the only one studying theoretical physics. While a student she did volunteer work at Boston City Hospital and tutored students at the Roxbury YMCA. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1968, writing her thesis on solid-state physics.
Jackson elected to stay at MIT for her doctoral work, in part to encourage more African American students to attend the institution. She worked on elementary particle theory for her Ph.D., which she completed in 1973, the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree from MIT. Her research was directed by James Young.
As a postdoctoral researcher of subatomic particles during the 1970s, Jackson studied and conducted research at a number of prestigious physics laboratories in both the United States and Europe. Her first position was as research associate at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois (known as Fermilab) where she studied hadrons.
In 1974 she became visiting scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. There she explored theories of strongly interacting elementary particles. In 1976 and 1977, she both lectured in physics at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and became a visiting scientist at the Aspen Center for Physics.
At one time her research focused on [Landau-Ginsburg] theories of charge density waves in layered compounds, and has studied two-dimensional Yang-Mills gauge theories and neutrino reactions.