Engineer of the Week No.84: Professor Daphne Frances Jackson OBE, PhD, ARCS, FinstP. DSc, FIEE, CEng, CPhys, FRSA (23 September 1936 – 8 February 1991)
On what would have been her 83rd birthday we remember nuclear engineer and founder of the UK’s returner fellowships programme, Daphne Jackson.
Born and schooled in Peterborough, Daphne Jackson came from a very modest background. Her father was a machine tool operator and her mother had been a seamstress. Nevertheless, her attendance at Peterborough County Grammar School for Girls gave her what may have been an exceptionally good grounding in science for a girls’ school at that time and she was able to go to Imperial College and graduated in physics in 1958. She then went to the Battersea Institute of Technology (then part of the University of London and now part of the University of Surrey) to do her PhD on “The nuclear density distribution and optical model parameters of Li6”, lithium 6 being one of the stable isotopes of natural lithium. By that point she had already been appointed as an assistant lecture at the college and had started her prolific research publications, with several published papers before she had even gained her PhD. She authored or co-authored some 120 papers and books during the ensuing 30 years, including text books and basic introductions to nuclear science as well as her own specialised research. Initially her work was on the structural models of nuclei. In the 1970s she had become interested in the absorption behaviours of the pion subatomic particle but the final decade of her life was focussed on the medical use of nuclear physics and she was involved in the development of diagnostic tools we now take for granted, such as tomography used in medical scanners.
This incredible level of publication was reflected in her rapid academic rise from assistant lecturer to professor in 1971, much heralded as the first female professor of physics in the UK, becoming Dean of Faculty 10 years later. Along the way she also became the Institute of Physics’ (IoP) youngest ever fellow (1966), and gained a DSc from Imperial College in 1970. She became and fellow of the IEE and vice president of the IoP in 1974, and was awarded the OBE in 1987.
Jackson joined the Women’s Engineering Society in 1966 and was actively involved in the society until her death. In 1971 she aatended the 3rd International Conference of Women in Engineering and Science and took special interest in how engineers were educated at both further and higher education levels. She became the Society’s president in 1984, which must have been a hectic time for her as, in 1985, she founded the fellows’ scholarship scheme to assist women to return to careers in engineering, that would be named in her honour after her death (Daphne jackson Fellowships), securing hundreds of thousands of pounds from industry to fund the scholarships.
In 1991 she lost her fight with cancer - a disease she had been helping to fight through her research with the Institute for Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital, and on which she had published so many papers.