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This woman has many firsts

Dr Shirley Ann Jackson was in India. What was this African-American's mission? Sakshi Arora explores.

india Updated: Apr 03, 2006 11:46 IST

When you talk about Dr Shirley Ann Jackson, the 18th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a lot of firsts come into the picture.

The first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT, the first African-American woman in the United States to earn a physics doctorate and the first woman to chair the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

And if that wasn't enough, she is the first African-American woman to head one of America's oldest national science and engineering research university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


 Dr Shirley Ann Jackson

Not her first trip to India, the former Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes that India and the US can put their heads together for safeguarding the nuclear research arena.

"It's great that India and US have decided to have a nuclear deal. Here, energy security is the key issue, especially for growing and developing economies. Even, for developed economies, it has to be kept in mind that resources are depleting fast and it's important to find alternate sources of technology. The only real solution is reversal of resources. We have to develop alternate technologies and nuclear is just a part of it," says Dr Jackson.

In India with a mission, Dr Jackson remembers her time as the chairman of NRC. Appointed by US President Bill Clinton, she was working towards outlining an agreement between the United States and India for nuclear safety cooperation.

"That process is still on. An agreement in this regard is still being worked on by the two countries," adds the scientist.

When the whole world is talking about the Indo-US nuclear deal, Dr Jackson believes that it's being hyped too much.

"It's not just about the deal. Of course the deal is huge but it has to be understood that nuclear peace is part of a much greater framework. There are many other issues that go into it," says Dr Jackson.

And where does India stand in the huge framework?

Dr Jackson has the answer.

"India has its strengths. It is fairly autonomous, very keen on finding alternate sources of energy, one of them being nuclear and so I think, it can be a very useful partner for America," says Dr Jackson.

"US, on the on the other hand, has great strength with light-water reactors and overall it has a very strong infrastructure. So, put together, the Indo-US combination can be very useful," opines Dr Jackson.

Leading a delegation from the Rensselaer Institute to India, Dr Jackson has travelled all over the country in her quest for exploring areas for research and education.

"There are three reasons why we are here. One, we want to meet with academicians and introduce Rensselaer. Second, to introduce and reintroduce Rensselaer to our own alumni and third and the most important, to explore areas of research and education in India," says Dr Jackson.

From IITs in Mumbai, Kanpur and Delhi to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Dr Jackson is not leaving any avenues unexplored.

The delegation also visited Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc) in Hyderabad, IBM India Research Lab, Infosys and also the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

After meeting Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr Jackson is all praises for the Indian President.

"Dr Kalam is a very distinguished gentleman. We spoke about a lot of issues. From physics to avenues in India for cooperation in the Research & Development sector," says the Rensselaer head.

But her praise just doesn't end here.

"India seems to have a lot of potential. While giving speeches in IITs in Kanpur and Mumbai, I also interacted with the students. And let me say, they had quite a lot of interesting questions. They were a lively bunch," says an impressed Dr Jackson.

First Published: Apr 03, 2006 11:42 IST