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Shirley Ann Jackson was born on August 5, 1946, in Washington, D.C., USA. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, she is alive and well. Jackson has led an inspiring and impactful life, both as a physicist and as a leader in higher education.
She married Morris A. Washington, a physicist, and together they have one son, Alan. Jackson received her bachelor's degree, and subsequently her doctoral degree, in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), making her the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT, and the second in the United States to earn a doctorate in physics.
Driven by a lifelong fascination with science, she developed a particular interest in physics, spurred by the mysteries and complexities of the universe. This drive led her to break numerous barriers and make significant contributions to the field.
Jackson's work has primarily focused on theoretical physics, specifically in condensed matter physics and optical physics. Her research has contributed to the understanding of charge density waves in layered compounds, polaronic aspects of electrons in the surface of liquid helium films, and optical and electronic properties of semiconductor strained-layer superlattices.
Throughout her career, she has also played a crucial role in shaping policies in science, technology, and education. Her work in these areas has not only made scientific knowledge more accessible but also led to advancements in technology and science education that continue to impact the modern world.
Shirley Ann Jackson has held numerous positions of prestige in academia, industry, and government. She served as the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1995 to 1999, where she led the development of regulations protecting public health and safety. Since 1999, Jackson has been the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
She has been recognized for her contributions with many awards and honors. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Science, the highest honor for scientific achievement in the United States.
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