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Shirley A. Jackson papers

Identifier: MC-0195

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Scope and Contents

This bulk of the collection (as of 2019) contains personal records and historical materials of Shirley A. Jackson from her tenure as Commissioner (May 2, 1995 to June 30, 1995) and Chair (July 1, 1995 to June 30, 1999) of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This set of records was reviewed by staff of the NRC prior to transfer to the Department of Distinctive Collections. Official records of the NRC are held by the National Archives and Records Administration. There is no classified information in the set of records held by the Department of Distinctive Collections. There are two speeches by Shirley Jackson at MIT events. Further additions are expected to this collection. The collection consists of correspondence, trip files, plant, utilities and vendor files as well as subject files and speeches.


  • Creation: circa 1984-1999


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.

Biographical Note

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson holds an S.B. in Physics, and a Ph.D. in Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics–both from MIT. She was one of the first two African-American women to receive a doctorate in physics in the United States and was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT. Committed to promoting social justice, she organized MIT’s Black Student Union and worked to increase the number of Black students entering MIT. After only one year, the number entering rose from 2 to 57.

As a theoretical physicist, Dr. Jackson's research specialty is in condensed matter physics, especially layered systems, and the physics of opto-electronic materials. From 1991 to 1995, Dr. Jackson was a professor of physics at Rutgers University, where she taught undergraduate and graduate students, conducted research on the electronic and optical properties of two-dimensional systems, and supervised Ph.D. candidates. She concurrently served as a consultant in semiconductor theory to AT&T Bell Laboratories.

From 1976 to 1991, Dr. Jackson conducted research in theoretical physics, solid state and quantum physics, and optical physics at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Her primary research foci were the optical and electronic properties of layered materials that included transition metal dichalcogenides, electrons on the surface of liquid helium films, and strained-layer semiconductor superlattices. She is best known for her work on the polaronic aspects of electrons in two-dimensional systems.

Before joining Bell Labs, Dr. Jackson spent two post-doctoral years working at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, as well as a year at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dr. Jackson was Chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from 1995 to 1999, appointed by President Clinton. She was the first African American woman to serve on the NRC and the first woman and African American to lead the entity. The NRC licenses, regulates, and safeguards the use of nuclear reactor byproduct material in the U.S. and is charged with the protection of the public health and safety, the environment, and the common defense and security. As Chair, Dr. Jackson was the principal executive officer of the NRC, with ultimate authority for all NRC functions pertaining to an emergency involving an NRC licensee.

While at the NRC, Dr. Jackson initiated a strategic assessment of the agency, leading to a new planning, budgeting, and performance management system that put the NRC on a more businesslike footing. She conceptualized and introduced risk-informed, performance-based regulation to the NRC that used probabilistic risk assessment on a consistent basis. As a result, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) implemented a risk-informed revision to its codes and standards for nuclear power plants and key nuclear components, and elements of risk-informed regulation were incorporated into the nuclear regulatory programs of other nations. Dr. Jackson also led the development of a new reactor oversight program and a license renewal process that resulted in the first renewal (in March, 2000) of the license of an operating reactor in the United States.

As chair of the NRC, Dr. Jackson represented the United States four times as a delegate to the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998). Dr. Jackson also spearheaded the formation of the International Nuclear Regulators Association (INRA) as a high-level forum to examine the issues surrounding nuclear safety and to allow nations to assist each other in this effort. The association included the most senior nuclear regulatory officials from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States (and now South Korea, with China as an observer). Dr. Jackson was elected as the first INRA chair, a position she held from 1997 to 1999. Prior to her appointment to the NRC, Dr. Jackson served on the Advisory Council of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), and was a member of the U.S. Department of Energy task force on the future of its multipurpose National Laboratories (the 1994 "Galvin" Commission). She also served on several high-level commissions in the state of New Jersey, including the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology.

In 1999, Dr. Jackson became the 18th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and has ushered the school since her arrival through a strategic initiative known as The Rensselaer Plan.

Dr. Jackson was elected as an international fellow of the British Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012 and has served on the Academy's Standing Committee for International Affairs since 2013. She is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the American Philosophical Society. Dr. Jackson is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general scientific society in the world. She is also a past president of AAAS and former chair of the AAAS board of directors. In addition, Dr. Jackson serves as a director of IBM Corporation, FedEx Corporation, Medtronic Inc., and Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated. She was previously a member of the board of governors of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a member of the board of directors of NYSE Euronext and its predecessors, and chair of the board of NYSE Regulation from 2006 to 2013.

Dr. Jackson is the former Vice Chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, a trustee of the Brookings Institution, a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, and member of the board of the World Economic Forum USA. She is a life member of the MIT Corporation (the MIT Board of Trustees). Dr. Jackson also served as University Vice Chair of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness from 2008 to 2013, and, during that period, co-chaired the Council's Energy Security, Sustainability, and Innovation (ESIS) initiative. Dr. Jackson also has served on a number of committees of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.


103.2 Cubic Feet (103 record cartons, 1 half manuscript box)

Language of Materials



This collection contains personal records and historical materials of Shirley A. Jackson from her tenure as Commissioner (May 2, 1995 to June 30, 1995) and Chairman (July 1, 1995 to June 30, 1999) of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are also two speeches in the collection that date prior to her tenure with NRC from MIT events. The collection contains correspondence, trip files, plant, utilities and vendor files as well as subject files and speeches.


Organized into twelve series: 1. Secretary’s Papers, 2. Correspondence, 3. COM Secretary files, 4. Chronological files, 5. Trip files, 6. Plant files, 7. Utilities, 8. Vendors and Agreement States, 9. International files, 10. Subject files, 11. Speeches.

Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site. At least two business days notice is required for use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Shirley Jackson and the NRC in 1989 and 2000.


Materials were in good order with detailed folder titles provided by NRC.

Processing Information

Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.

Materials were sent with descriptive folder tiles which were kept. Some folders and boxes were replaced as determined necessary for preservation.

Technology Review profile of Shirley A. Jackson

MIT Technology Review article “The Remarkable Career of Shirley Ann Jackson,” published Dec. 19, 2017.
Guide to the Shirley A. Jackson papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US