Meet Dr. Shirley Jackson, Black Woman Who Invented The Caller ID And Call Waiting

Due to the vital study of an African-American woman, Dr. Shirley Jackson, the Call Waiting and Caller ID feature, the portable fax machine, and touch tone telephones all came to fruition. She came up with the idea while working at AT&T Bell Labs, where she studied theoretical physics, solid state and quantum physics, and optical physics.

Many people have benefited from her two key innovations, Call Waiting and Caller ID. Many people have used the Caller ID feature to screen known, unknown, or unwelcome phone calls. While on another call, people who use Call Waiting are alerted to a new incoming call.

It’s worth noting that receiving a call does not prevent the incoming call from being answered. People no longer miss calls they are anticipating because they are on the phone receiving another call, due to Dr. Shirley Jackson.

Jackson was the first African-American woman to get a doctorate from MIT and the first African-American woman to serve as president of a top-ranked research university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, where she was born on August 5, 1946.

She is also the first African-American woman to receive the National Medal of Science and the second African-American woman to receive a doctorate in physics in the United States. Jackson’s parents and professors saw her innate gift for science as she was growing up and encouraged her to pursue it.

She graduated from high school as valedictorian in 1964 and went on to M.I.T., where she was one of the few women and black students. Her professors thought science was inappropriate for a black woman at the time, but Jackson persisted and graduated with a B.S. in 1968.

She received her PhD in 1973 and went on to perform postdoctoral research at a number of institutions, including Fermi in Illinois, before joining AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1976, where she stayed for 15 years.

From 1991 through 1995, Jackson was a professor at Rutgers University. Bill Clinton later named her chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the United States. Jackson was named President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1999, and she still holds that position today. She was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2004 and chairman of the Society’s board of directors in 2005. Jackson is the father of one son and is married to a physicist.

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