Physics

Shirley Ann Jackson, An African-American Physicist Of Many Firsts

News: The Curiosity Podcast is here! Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, SoundCloud and RSS.

For Black History Month, Curiosity is highlighting the inspirational stories that you should know (but probably don't) of people who have changed the world.

Shirley Ann Jackson loved math and science as a young girl and stuck with it. She was inspired by nature and often observed the behaviors of bees from her backyard. Not letting discouraging words from her professors phase her, Jackson pursued physics and became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree from MIT in 1973. Impressed? That's just the beginning.

Related: Katherine Johnson Is The Human Computer Who Helped Us Go To Space

Advertisement

Theoretical Physics' Superwoman

After earning her Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics, Jackson spent several years of postdoctoral research at various labs across the United States, including Fermilab in Illinois. She ultimately followed her passion for condensed matter and landed a role working with AT&T Bell Laboratories. Over her 19 years at Bell Labs, Jackson was a leading developer of Caller ID, Call Waiting and fiber optics for phones.

Related: Dr. Mae Jemison: The First African American Woman In Space

The accolades don't stop there. According to the New York Times, Jackson 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 now the first African-American woman to lead a national research university (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). She is also the first African-American woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Related: Madam C. J. Walker, America's First Female Self-Made Millionaire

Calling All Women In STEM

Jackson was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998, because, as Time Magazine aptly stated in 2005, she's "perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science." When asked what drives her, Jackson cooly replied: "What drives me is the ability to make a difference—to make a difference in people's lives, and to be able to speak to the issues of the day." We hope every young woman considering a career in STEM is listening—Jackson is proof that you can make a difference.

Is there something you're curious about? Email us at editors (at) curiosity.com. And follow Curiosity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Love getting smarter? Sign up to our newsletter and get our best content in your inbox!

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About Women In STEM

Shirley Ann Jackson, 2014 National Medal Of Science Recipient

She preferred physics because it combined the mathematical approach with natural observation and experiments.

Katherine Johnson Is The Human Computer Who Helped Us Go To Space

Katherine Johnson, one of the real-life women who inspired the movie Hidden Figures, was a mathematician who made monumental contributions to space travel at a time when opportunities for black women were rare.

Get to know one of the real-life women behind the movie "Hidden Figures" arrow_forward

Meet India's Human Computer

What day did November 20th fall on in the year 1851? Shakuntala Devi knew the answer immediately.

Advertisement