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2011 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize Recipient

AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize

2011 Award Recipient


Shirley Ann Jackson graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in physics in 1968 and a Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics in 1973, both from MIT. Her doctorate made her the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. from MIT.

Her early research career included positions at several prestigious physics laboratories, including Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and, from 1976 to 1991, AT&T Bell Laboratories. She was professor of theoretical physics at Rutgers University from 1991 to 1995 while also continuing to consult with Bell Labs on semiconductor theory.

In 1995, Dr. Jackson was appointed by President Clinton to serve as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), becoming the first woman and the first African American to serve in that position. As NRC Chairman, she initiated a strategic assessment of the agency, implementing new planning, management, and budgeting systems to “put the NRC on a more businesslike footing.” She also led the development of a new reactor oversight program and an improved license renewal process. She initiated the formation of the International Nuclear Regulators Association in 1997, and was elected the Association’s first chairman, holding the position until 1999.

On July 1, 1999, Dr. Jackson became the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, once again accepting the position as the first woman and first African American. She has led an ambitious strategic effort to transform the Institute, known as “The Rensselaer Plan,” resulting in a remarkable expansion of high-quality research centers and facilities on the campus, growth in faculty, and greatly expanded opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Dr. Jackson’s involvement with AAAS has included serving as President in 2004-05 and Chair of the Board of Directors in 2005-06. Her AAAS presidential address, “The Nexus: Where Science Meets Society,” has been widely cited in science and technology policy circles. In 2003, she was selected to deliver the William D. Carey Lecture at the annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy.

One of Dr. Jackson’s most important contributions has been to serve as a forceful advocate for the greater inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities in scientific and technical fields. Dr. Jackson has been described as “a national treasure” by the National Science Board and as “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science” by Time Magazine in 2005.

The Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, established in 1985, recognizes a public servant for sustained exceptional contributions to advancing science, or a scientist whose career has been distinguished both for scientific achievement and for other notable services to the scientific community. The recipient receives $5,000 and a commemorative medallion.

Please click here for a list of past recipients.