Ambar (ambar) wrote,

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Ada Lovelace Day: Dr. Shirley Jackson

I don't know her; I never met her. But a photo of her hung (and may still, for all I know) in the Infinite Corridor during my time at the 'Tute. The wall text by the photo explained that she was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT, and that she was [then] currently employed at Bell Labs.

Wikipedia expands:

Jackson's area of interest in physics is the study of the subatomic particles found within atoms, the tiny units of which all matter is made. [...]

Jackson joined the Theoretical Physics Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1976, examining the fundamental properties of various materials. In 1978, Dr. Jackson became part of the Scattering and Low Energy Physics Research Department, and in 1988 she moved to the Solid State and Quantum Physics Research Department. At Bell Labs, Dr. Jackson researched the optical and electronic properties of two-dimensional and quasi-two dimensional systems. In her research, Dr. Jackson has made contributions to the knowledge of charged 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. On these topics and others she has prepared or collaborated on over 100 scientific articles.

She has also taught at the university level, headed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and is currently president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Every time I walked by that photograph, I (attending MIT on a Bell Labs scholarship at the time) got a tiny hit of encouragement. "If she could do it, I could do it," was the thought. In the event, I was wrong (if we take "earning a degree from MIT" to be the "it" involved), but I have never forgotten that photograph.

My emotional reaction to finding that googling '"bell labs" black female physicist' returns articles about her as five of the first six results is more complex, but that's probably a different posting. Personal trivia note: she is exactly a day older than my mother.
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