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Oral history interview with Nancy B. Jackson

  • 2010-Sep-22

Oral history interview with Nancy B. Jackson

  • 2010-Sep-22

Nancy B. Jackson was born in Wisconsin, and her family moved a few times during her childhood. Jackson spent much of her teenage years in St. Louis, Missouri. Both of her parents were United Church of Christ ministers. Her grandfather was Native American (Seneca) and grew up on the Cattaraugus reservation in New York. Jackson was originally interested in politics and worked on Capitol Hill before and while attending George Washington University, but Theodore P. Perros (1921-2014) convinced her that a chemistry degree would be more impactful in environmental and Native American causes. After graduation, she worked in education at the American Chemical Society (ACS) for several years. Next, she returned to graduate school, earning an MS and Ph.D. in chemical engineering, which she regards as being a sort of applied chemistry, at the University of Texas in Austin, working with John G. Ekerdt. There she met and eventually married James Miller, also a chemical engineer, and the couple accepted jobs at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jackson did her Ph.D. and began her career in the field of catalysis and was soon joined by her husband in that area. When Nancy and her husband had twin sons, Jackson worked part-time for a few years shifting her focus to collaboration, building the program, and supporting it through fundraising activities. Concurrently, she undertook educational outreach activities to underrepresented minorities and assumed tribal government relations responsibilities. She eventually moved on from catalysis to manage a group that specialized in chemometrics. From there Jackson became deputy director of the nonproliferation group under Dori [Doris E.] Ellis. After a management reshuffle, Jackson found her footing by working with the US Department of State to found the Chemical Security Engagement Program (CSP) and within Sandia to found and manage the International Chemical Threat Reduction Department. Jackson also began actively attempting to improve the working environment for women at Sandia and to make it more equitable; she became head of the Sandia Women’s Action Network (SWAN). The CSP program undertook the task of educating and assisting chemists in industry and academia with safety and security, first in developing countries in Southeast Asia; then the Middle East; now in Africa. This work entailed an understanding of the difference in countries, labs, products, goals, and problems; sometimes this meant risk-based safety assessments and follow-ups. During this time, Jackson gave talks in different countries about border security and other topics of interest.

Throughout graduate school and her professional career, Nancy was very active in the American Chemical Society (ACS) serving on and chairing many committees and participating in ACS governance. In 2008 she was asked to run for President-elect of the Society. In 2009, while in Jordan, she was notified that she had won the election and would begin serving as President-elect in 2010. She was especially excited because her Presidential year would be the International Year of Chemistry, 2011. During her Presidency, she hopes to expand the influence and reach of ACS internationally and make the resources more universally available. Relying on stories and relationships—a characteristic of her Native American heritage—Jackson wants to improve communications with the public. She feels that the U.S. is losing its leadership in science and thinks that more education and research in science are needed. She is delighted to be the first Native American President of ACS, and she looks forward to promoting more Native Americans through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 81 pages
  • 3h 39m 35s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003.  She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory.  At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0873

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • March 01, 1956
  • Eau Claire, Wisconsin, United States
  • January 03, 2022
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1979 George Washington University BS Chemistry
1986 University of Texas, Austin MS Chemical Engineering
1990 University of Texas, Austin PhD Chemical Engineering

Professional Experience

American Chemical Society

  • 1979 to 1982 Staff Associate

Sandia National Laboratories

  • 1991 to 2001 Principal Investigator, Catalysis Research
  • 1991 to 1995 Department of Energy, Education Activities
  • 1992 Laboratory-Managed Research and Development Program
  • 1994 to 2009 Laboratory-Managed Research and Development Program
  • 1995 to 2001 Catalysis Program Management and Development
  • 1997 to 1998 Sandia Government Relations Team
  • 2001 to 2004 Manager, Chemical and Biological Sensing, Imaging, and Analysis Departmen
  • 2004 to 2006 International Security Center, Deputy Director
  • 2007 to 2013 Manager, International Chemical Threat Reduction Department

University of New Mexico

  • 1999 to 2013 Associate Research Professor, Chemical and Nuclear Engineering Department

US Department of State

  • 2014 to 2015 Franklin Fellow, Senior Science Policy Advisor, Science Diplomacy and Nonproliferation


Year(s) Award
2003 Women on the Move Award, Rio Grande YWCA
2004 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, George Washington University
2005 Professional of the Year, American Indian Science and Engineering Society
2005 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
2005 National Affiliate, National Academies
2009 Howard Fawcett Award, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety
2011 Fellow, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
2011 Distinguished Women in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, IUPAC
2011 President of the American Chemistry Society
2012 AAAS Award for Science Diplomacy
2013 Fellow, American Chemical Society

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The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads