Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson

President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Inducted in 2000

The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson is the 18th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., the oldest technological research university in the United States.

Describing her as "a national treasure," the National Science Board selected Dr. Jackson as its 2007 recipient of the prestigious Vannevar Bush Award for "a lifetime of achievements in scientific research, education, and senior statesman-like contributions to public policy."

Described by Time Magazine (2005) as "perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science," President Jackson has held senior leadership positions in government, industry, research, and academe.

Since her arrival in 1999, Dr. Jackson has fostered an extraordinary renaissance at Rensselaer through the vision, development and implementation of The Rensselaer Plan, the Institute's strategic blueprint. This institutional transformation has included the hiring of more than 180 new faculty and a corresponding reduction in class size and student/faculty ratios; initiating and/or completing $600 million in new construction and renovation of facilities for research, teaching, and student life; a doubling of research awards; and innovations in curriculum, undergraduate research, and student life initiatives. President Jackson secured a $360 million unrestricted gift to the university (2001), launched the $1 billion Renaissance at Rensselaer Campaign (2004), and expanded the goal of the campaign to $1.4 billion (2006) when the initial goal was met earlier than anticipated.

Dr. Jackson holds a Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics from M.I.T. (1973) and a S.B. in physics from M.I.T. (1968). Her research specialty is in theoretical condensed matter physics, especially layered systems, and the physics of opto-electronic materials.

Prior to her leadership of Rensselaer, President Jackson was Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; a theoretical physicist conducting basic research at the former AT&T Bell Laboratories; and a professor of theoretical physics at Rutgers University.

In 1995 President William Clinton appointed Dr. Jackson to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). She was Chairman of the NRC from 1995-1999. As Chairman, she was the principal executive officer of and the official spokesman for the NRC. She had ultimate authority for all NRC functions pertaining to an emergency involving an NRC licensee. The NRC is charged with the protection of the public health and safety, the environment, and the common defense and security by licensing, regulating, and safeguarding the use of reactor byproduct material in the U.S. This includes power reactors; research, test, and training reactors; fuel cycle facilities; reactor byproduct use in medicine, industry and research; the transportation, storage, and disposal of high-level and low-level radioactive waste; and the licensing of nuclear exports for peaceful uses.

While at the NRC, Dr. Jackson initiated a strategic assessment and rebaselining of the agency, leading to a new planning, budgeting, and performance management system that put the NRC on a more businesslike footing. She conceptualized and introduced risk-informed, performance-based regulation to the NRC (utilizing probabilistic risk assessment on a consistent basis), which has been infused throughout its regulatory programs. Elements of the approach also have been incorporated into the nuclear regulatory programs of other nations. She led the development of a new reactor oversight program, and created, with the Commission, a license renewal process resulting in the first renewal (in March 2000) of the license of an operating reactor in the United States.

While Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dr. Jackson spearheaded the formation of the International Nuclear Regulators Association (INRA) in May 1997, and was elected as the group's first chairman, a position she held from 1997 to 1999. The association was made up of the most senior nuclear regulatory officials from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States (and now South Korea). As the first INRA chairman, Dr. Jackson guided its development as a high-level forum to examine issues, and to offer assistance to other nations, on matters of nuclear safety.

While at the NRC, Dr. Jackson represented the United States four times (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998) as a delegate to the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.

From 1991 to 1995, Dr. Jackson was professor of physics at Rutgers University, where she taught undergraduate and graduate students, conducted research on the electronic and optical properties of two-dimensional systems, and supervised Ph.D. candidates. She concurrently served as a consultant in semiconductor theory to AT&T Bell Laboratories.

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.

Dr. Jackson is past President (2004) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and former Chairman (2005) of the AAAS Board of Directors. The AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society. In 2003, she delivered the William Carey Lecture of the AAAS.

Dr. Jackson is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (2001) and the American Philosophical Society (2007). She also is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the American Physical Society (1986), and the AAAS (2007). She is a member of a number of other professional organizations. Dr. Jackson holds 43 honorary doctoral degrees.

In January 2001, Dr. Jackson received the "Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award" from the American Association of Physics Teachers. In 1993 she was awarded the New Jersey Governor's Award in Science (the "Thomas Alva Edison Award").

Dr. Jackson was named as one of seven 2004 fellows of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). AWIS is dedicated to achieving equity and full participation of women in all fields of science and technology.

Dr. Jackson is a member of the Board of Directors of the NYSE Euronext (since December, 2003). She chairs the New York Stock Exchange Regulation Board. She serves on the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution and as a director of IBM Corporation, FedEx Corporation, Marathon Oil Corporation, Medtronic Inc., and Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated.

She serves as a Trustee of the Brookings Institution, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the Council on Competitiveness.

Dr. Jackson is a Life Member of the M.I.T. Corporation (the M.I.T. Board of Trustees). She also is a Trustee of Georgetown University, and the Emma Willard School (Troy, N.Y.).

Dr. Jackson serves on the U.S. Comptroller-General's Advisory Committee for the Government Accounting Office (GAO). She has been a member of the National Advisory Council for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Prior to her appointment to the NRC, Dr. Jackson served on the Advisory Council of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), and served on several corporate boards of directors. She served on several high-level commissions in the State of New Jersey, including the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. She was a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Task Force on the future of its multipurpose National Laboratories (the 1994 "Galvin" Commission). She also has served on a number of committees of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Jackson is the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from M.I.T. - in any subject. She is one of the first two African-American women to receive a doctorate in physics in the U.S. She is the first African-American to become a Commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She is both the first woman and the first African-American to serve as the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the first African-American woman to lead a national research university. She also is the first African-American woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and the first to receive the Vannevar Bush award.

Dr. Jackson was honored by AARP The Magazine as one of its ten 2007 Impact Award winners - "extraordinary" people who "have made the world a better place through their innovative thinking, passion, and perseverance."

In 2002, Dr. Jackson was named one of the Top 50 Women in Science by Discover magazine, and recognized in a published book by ESSENCE titled 50 of The Most Inspiring African-Americans. She also was named one of "50 R&D Stars to Watch" by Industry Week Magazine.

Dr. Jackson was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998 for her significant and profound contributions as a distinguished scientist and advocate for education, science, and public policy. She was inducted into the Women in Technology International Foundation Hall of Fame (WITI) in June 2000. WITI recognizes women technologists and scientists whose achievements are exceptional.

Dr. Jackson received the 2001 "Immortal Award" for the 15th Annual Black History Makers Award sponsored by Associated Black Charities. Also, in February 2001, Dr. Jackson became the first woman to win the Black Engineer of the Year Award by US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine. In March 2000, Dr. Jackson was awarded the Golden Torch Award for Lifetime Achievement in Academia from the National Society of Black Engineers.

In 2000, Dr. Jackson received the "100 Women of Excellence" award from the Albany-Colonie (NY) Regional Chamber of Commerce & Women's Business Council recognizing women who pioneered change in the community over the past century. In 2006, the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP) presented its Community Citizenship Award to Dr. Jackson for the Institute's contributions to the revitalization of the greater Troy area.

Dr. Jackson is married to Dr. Morris A. Washington, also a physicist. They have one son, Alan, a graduate of Dartmouth College.

Profile at the time of induction in 2000