Professor Spotlight: David Jackson

Binam Poudyal ’22, Guest Columnist

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When Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy David Jackson was in high school, he planned on being a rockstar.  “I was in a band very seriously for eight years during high school; I used to be able to shred an electric guitar. I had a full time job playing for the band, but I finally started going to a community college…and transferred to the University of Washington after 4-5 years,” he said.

Although Professor Jackson went to university to study computer engineering, he ended up majoring in physics. “In physics, you had to think deeply. I like the first principles approach to things, and that’s what you do in physics,” he said.

After finishing getting his bachelor’s degree, Jackson went on to graduate school at Princeton University and did his thesis on pattern formation in magnetic liquids.

Jackson is currently teaching a First-Year Seminar titled, “Where is the Electron? The strange and fascinating theory of quantum mechanics” where he discusses fundamental ideas in quantum mechanics without relying solely on mathematics. He is also teaching a course in computational physics, which is about solving physics problems using computers. 

When asked what it was like working with students, Jackson had an enthusiastic response. “I love it. That’s why I came to Dickinson. There’s something about being in touch with the next generation and students tend…[to be] bright and enthusiastic about the future, and excited to learn. [T]hat keeps me feeling young and excited to learn” 

Jackson has also published a book titled Explorations in Physics: An Activity-Based Approach to Understanding the World based on his curriculum development project. He has also just returned after working for 6 years as an editor at the American Journal of Physics. 

“Everything else kind of got put on hold at that time,” Jackson notes, “but it was a wonderful experience, a wonderful job… It’s a journal that mixes research and education and that really appealed to me. And I think I was pretty good at it, I am good at communicating scientific ideas to other scientists and people.” 

Currently, Jackson is working on an introductory book on quantum mechanics, which is based on experiments that could be done with undergraduate students in a lab. “I think there needs to be a kind of book that focuses on actual experiments that can be done, so that you don’t always have to depend on your imagination, but be able to get actual data to base your discussion on. So I have been spending a lot of time in the quantum optics lab, developing these experiments, some of which you will see later in our first year seminar,” he said. 

In addition, Jackson is the father of two children, who are both about to enter college. “I was a first-generation student when I went to college…So it’s really fun as a parent to watch both my kids…go through the college search process…That gives me a whole new love for college and teaching first-year students,” he said.

Jackson has one important piece of advice for students trying to find their place in college and after graduation. “I think students in general should think about following a path they find really satisfying. A job you’re going to work a long time, if not [for] your whole life. So, I think it’s really important to find something you really enjoy doing and make that your career,” he said.