John David Jackson (physicist)


John David Jackson (January 19, 1925 – May 20, 2016)[1][2] was a Canadian–American physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a faculty senior scientist emeritus at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

John David Jackson
Jackson textbook (cropped).jpg
Born(1925-01-19)January 19, 1925
DiedMay 20, 2016(2016-05-20) (aged 91)
Alma materUniversity of Western Ontario
Known forClassical Electrodynamics
AwardsHon. D.Sc., University of Western Ontario, 1989
Scientific career
FieldsNuclear physics
Particle physics
McGill University
University of Illinois
University of California, Berkeley
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Doctoral advisorVictor Frederick Weisskopf
Doctoral studentsGordon L. Kane
Chris Quigg

A theoretical physicist, he was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and is well known for numerous publications and summer-school lectures in nuclear and particle physics, as well as his widely used graduate text on classical electrodynamics.[3]


Born in London, Ontario, Canada, Jackson attended the University of Western Ontario, receiving a B.Sc. in honors physics and mathematics in 1946. He went on to graduate study at MIT, where he worked under Victor Weisskopf, completing his Ph.D. thesis in 1949.[4]

Academic careerEdit

Jackson held academic appointments successively at McGill University, thanks to Philip Russell Wallace, a prominent Canadian theoretical physicist, (January 1950 – 1957); then the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (1957–1967); and finally the University of California, Berkeley (1967–1995). At McGill, he was Assistant and Associate Professor of Mathematics; at Illinois and Berkeley, he was in the Physics Departments. At the latter, he held appointments on campus and at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. After retiring from teaching in 1993, he continued to be active at LBNL.

McGill and PrincetonEdit

At McGill in the 1950s, in addition to appreciable teaching, Jackson found time for research on atomic processes and nuclear reactions at intermediate energies and the beginnings of his book on classical electricity and magnetism.

While on leave at Princeton University, he found a fruitful collaboration with Sam Treiman and H. W. Wyld on weak interactions, particularly the various observable decay correlations in allowed nuclear beta decay involving the electron's momentum, its spin, the neutrino's momentum, and the nuclear spin that provide information about parity conservation or non-conservation and time reversal conservation or not.[5][6] He also published an early paper on the theoretical foundation for the then recently discovered muon-catalyzed fusion of hydrogen isotopes.[7][8][9]

Illinois (1957–1967) and CERN (1963–64)Edit

While at the University of Illinois (1957–1967) Jackson initially continued work on weak interactions as well as strange particle interactions at low energy with Wyld and others. On sabbatical leave at CERN in 1963–64, he collaborated with Kurt Gottfried on production and decay of unstable resonances in high-energy hadronic collisions.[7][10] They introduced the use of the density matrix to connect production mechanisms to the decay patterns and described the influence of competing processes ("absorption") on the reactions.[11]

During this period Jackson lectured at three summer schools—on dispersion relations at the first Scottish Universities Summer School in Physics, 1960; on weak interactions at the Brandeis Summer Institute, 1962; and on particle and polarization decay distributions at the Summer School of Theoretical Physics, Les Houches, 1965. He also published three books, one on particle physics, based on lectures at the Canadian Summer School in Edmonton and Jasper, 1957;[12] the second, a small book on mathematics for quantum mechanics (1962) and the third, also in 1962, the first edition of his text on classical electrodynamics.[3] The book is notorious for the difficulty of its problems, and its tendency to treat non-obvious conclusions as self-evident. Jackson's high standards and admonitory vocabulary are the subject of an amusing memorial volume by his son Ian Jackson.[13]


Moving to Berkeley in 1967, Jackson taught on campus, did his research at LBNL, and served in administrative positions at both (Chair, University of California, Berkeley (UCB) Physics Department, 1978–1981; Head, LBNL Physics Division, January 1982 – June 1984). In the formative years of the ill-fated Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) project, he served as deputy director of operations of the SSC Central Design Group that did the R&D culminating in the 20 TeV design accepted by President Reagan in 1987.

In the 1960s and 1970s his research alone and with students focused in journal publications and conference papers on models of high energy processes, radiative and resolution corrections for resonances in electron–positron annihilation, spin-flip synchrotron radiation and the polarization of electrons in a storage ring, and, after November 1974, the spectroscopy of the charm–anticharm particles. In 1973, he lectured again at the Scottish Universities Summer School in Physics (SUSSP), on hadronic interactions at high energies, and in 1976 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) National Accelerator Laboratory's, SLAC Summer Institute (SSI), on charmonium spectroscopy.[7][14] In 1973–74 he ran the nascent theory group at Fermilab and co-edited the proceedings of the 1973 "Rochester" Conference.

In January 1977 Jackson began a 17-year stint as Editor of Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science. In much of the 1980s he was involved with many others in the high-energy physics community in activities aimed at the next step up in accelerators. Then in 1983 he became active in the R&D for the SSC, and on the program advisory committee for the SSC Laboratory when it began in Texas in 1988.

Retirement yearsEdit

Jackson retired from teaching in May 1995, but retained his connection with LBNL. In the 1990s and beyond his time was increasingly devoted to semi-historical talks and publications on a variety of topics, with a foray into refuting suggestions that cancer may be caused by environmental radiation stemming from ubiquitous electronics use.[15] Noteworthy are a continuing series of papers in the American Journal of Physics on diverse topics in electromagnetism, including rebuttals of mistaken ideas. History of physics publications include the historical roots of gauge invariance,[16] examples of the misattribution of discoveries in physics,[17] and the editing of a sequel to R. T. Birge's history of the Berkeley Physics Department.[18]


Among his students at McGill, Hubert Reeves, a Master's student, went on to international prominence as an astrophysicist in France. John T. Donohue (now in Bordeaux, France) and Gordon L. Kane (University of Michigan) stand out among his Ph.D. students at Illinois. The Berkeley trio, Bob Cahn (LBNL), Richard D. Field (University of Florida), and Chris Quigg (Fermilab), are prominent particle theorists.

Memberships and honorsEdit

Jackson was a Fellow of the American Physical Society (elected in 1961),[19] a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Member of the National Academy of Sciences (elected in 1990).[20] In 1956, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.[21] In 1989, he received an Honorary D. Sc. from his alma mater, the University of Western Ontario. In 2009, in recognition of his own contributions to classroom teaching and his influential textbook, the American Association of Physics Teachers created the "J. D. Jackson Award for Excellence in Graduate Education", with the first award in February 2010 to Eugene D. Commins.


  1. ^ John Jackson. "John Jackson Obituary - Lansing, MI | Lansing State Journal". Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  2. ^ Chris Quigg [@chrisquigg] (22 May 2016). "J. D. Jackson, meticulous scholar, revered teacher, master of Classical Electrodynamics, my mentor, & very fine person, has died at 91. RIP" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  3. ^ a b Jackson, J. D. (1998) [1962]. Classical Electrodynamics (3rd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-30932-1. OCLC 535998.
  4. ^ Jackson, J. D.; Blatt, J. M. (1950). "The interpretation of low energy proton–proton scattering". Reviews of Modern Physics. 22 (1): 77–118. Bibcode:1950RvMP...22...77J. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.22.77.
  5. ^ Jackson, J. D.; Treiman, S. B.; Wyld, H. W. (1957). "Possible tests of time reversal invariance in beta decay". Physical Review. 106 (3): 517–521. Bibcode:1957PhRv..106..517J. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.106.517.
  6. ^ Jackson, J. D.; Treiman, S. B.; Wyld, H. W. (1957). "Coulomb corrections in allowed beta transitions". Nuclear Physics. 4: 206–212. Bibcode:1957NucPh...4..206J. doi:10.1016/0029-5582(87)90019-8.
  7. ^ a b c Cahn, Robert N. (21 September 2021). "J. David Jackson (January 19, 1925–May 20, 2016): A Biographical Memoir". Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science. 71 (1): 23–36. Bibcode:2021ARNPS..71...23C. doi:10.1146/annurev-nucl-021621-035759. ISSN 0163-8998. S2CID 239067925. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  8. ^ Alvarez, L. W.; Crawford, F.; et al. (1957). "Catalysis of nuclear reactions by µ-mesons". Physical Review. 105 (3): 1127–1128. Bibcode:1957PhRv..105.1127A. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.105.1127. S2CID 123886206.
  9. ^ Jackson, J. D. (1957). "Catalysis of nuclear reactions between hydrogen isotopes by negative mu-mesons". Physical Review. 106 (2): 330–339. Bibcode:1957PhRv..106..330J. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.106.330.
  10. ^ Gottfried, K.; Jackson, J. D. (1964). "On the connection between production mechanism and decay of resonances at high energy". Nuovo Cimento. 33 (2): 309–330. Bibcode:1964NCim...33..309G. doi:10.1007/BF02750195. S2CID 121279157.
  11. ^ Gottfried, K.; Jackson, J. D. (1964). "Influence of absorption due to competing processes on peripheral reactions". Nuovo Cimento. 34 (3): 735–752. Bibcode:1964NCim...34..735G. doi:10.1007/BF02750013. S2CID 35362627.
  12. ^ Jackson, J. D. (1958). The Physics of Elementary Particles. Princeton University Press. LCCN 58013935. OCLC 536207.
  13. ^ Jackson, Ian (2016). Mathein Pathein: a thesaurus of the idiolect of John David Jackson (1925-2016). Berkeley: Ian Jackson Books.
  14. ^ Jackson, J. D. (August 18, 1976). "Lectures on the new particles" (PDF). SLAC Report. 198: 147–202. Bibcode:1976slac.conf....2. LBL-5500
  15. ^ Jackson, J. D. (1992). "Are stray 60 Hz electromagnetic fields associated with the distribution and use of electric power a significant cause of cancer?". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 89 (8): 3508–3510. Bibcode:1992PNAS...89.3508J. doi:10.1073/pnas.89.8.3508. PMC 48897. PMID 1565645.
  16. ^ Jackson, J. D.; Okun, L. B. (2001). "Historical roots of gauge invariance". Reviews of Modern Physics. 73 (3): 663–680. arXiv:hep-ph/0012061. Bibcode:2001RvMP...73..663J. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.73.663. S2CID 8285663.
  17. ^ Jackson, J. D. (2008). "Examples of the zeroth theorem of the history of science". American Journal of Physics. 76 (8): 704–719. arXiv:0708.4249. Bibcode:2008AmJPh..76..704J. doi:10.1119/1.2904468. S2CID 117774134.
  18. ^ Helmholz, A. C. (2004). Jackson, J. D. (ed.). History of the Physics Department, University of California, Berkeley, 1950–1968. University of California, Berkeley, Department of Physics. Contains more recent information in appendices.
  19. ^ "APS Fellow Archive".
  20. ^ "J. David Jackson". National Academy of Sciences.
  21. ^ "John David Jackson". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 2013-09-03.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  • J. D. Jackson's web site
  • Scientific publications of John David Jackson on INSPIRE-HEP
  • Robert N. Cahn, "J. David Jackson", Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences (2017)