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Shirley Ann Jackson: An Astrophysicist and an Advocate

By Ishika Desai

Shirley Ann Jackson is an accomplished astrophysicist and former head of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She made history of women of color in the United States and her story inspires those around the world to pursue more.

Shirley Ann Jackson was born on August 5, 1946 in Washington D.C. right before the United States began to emphasize space exploration. Her mother and father both encouraged her as she grew up. Her mother read her biographies of important African American STEM figures and her father fostered her interest in science by helping her with science projects. During this time, the United States was in a space race, which largely played a role in cultivating Jackson’s love for science. After taking accelerated classes all through high school, she graduated valedictorian in the class of 1964. After high school, she attended MIT where she graduated with a PH.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics, being one of the first Black women in the United States to do so.

After completing her education, Jackson took part in many research experiments throughout the 70s. She worked in Fermilab where she explored and researched large subatomic particles called hadrons and explored Landau theories of charge density waves in one- and two-dimensions, as well as Tang-Mills gauge theories and neutrino reactions. In the late 70s, Jackson researched at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. She was also elected to MIT Corporation’s Board of Trustees. During this, she researched theoretical physics and electromagnet properties on ceramic materials. In the 80s, Jackson was appointed professor at Rutgers University. She became president of the National Society of Black Physicists and served on the New Jersey commission on Science and Technology. Moving to the 90s, she was inducted by Bill Clinton into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Despite all of these accolades, Shirley Ann Jackson remains as a humble and inspirational figure. She continues to advocate for representation of minorities in the STEM fields and brings attention to crises happening in the world of STEM. Her story inspires those around the world to continue to seek more knowledge and advocate for what you believe in. Shirley Ann Jackson has not only made an impact in STEM, but in people too.

Works Cited

“Jackson, Shirley Ann.” National Women’s Hall of Fame,


“Shirley Ann Jackson’s Biography.” The HistoryMakers, 2020, www.thehistorymakers


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