Fermilab Today Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

Science communication pioneer Judy Jackson retires

Judy Jackson

When Judy Jackson began working at Fermilab in 1991, she planted seeds for more open and transparent communication. More than 20 years later, her efforts continue to bear fruit for Fermilab and the particle physics community worldwide.

"She has broken completely new ground regarding the way that science is communicated," said Neil Calder, former SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory head of communications and Jackson's long-time colleague.

Jackson will retire next month. Thursday is her last day at the laboratory. A retirement celebration for Jackson will take place at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 27, on the second floor crossover of Wilson Hall. Come congratulate Jackson on her retirement.

"It has been enormous fun," Jackson said.

Since she began working for Fermilab as a contractor in 1991, and then as an employee in 1992, Jackson has taken a creative approach to communication, often thinking outside the box and occasionally going against the grain.

Calder was working in the CERN press office in 1996 when he first heard from Jackson. There was an atmosphere of contention between the two laboratories and Calder had issued a press release stating that a CERN experiment had at last begun producing large numbers of W bosons.

Jackson, who became director of the Office of Public Affairs in 1995, called Calder to explain that Fermilab had produced W bosons for years and invited him to visit.

"We got on very well and determined that Fermilab and CERN would work together to make sure that there were no more stupid mistakes," Calder said.

An issue of FermiNews from May 1995 that announces the creation of the Office of Public Affairs and the selection of Judy Jackson as the new office's director.

The collaboration between the two laboratories continued, and Jackson began reaching out to communicators at other laboratories.

"Judy wanted the laboratories to work together rather than against each other," Calder said.

In 2001 Jackson led the formation of the InterAction Collaboration, an international particle physics communication group dedicated to promoting particle physics and their institutions. The collaboration began with six laboratories: DESY, Fermilab, CERN, SLAC, INFN and Gran Sasso; and today it includes 22 institutions worldwide.

"The InterAction Collaboration really changed the way that we communicate particle physics," said James Gillies, the head of communication at CERN. "There's a move now for regions of the world to collaborate in particle physics. Communicators got there first."

Closer to home, Jackson has spent the past 20 years encouraging employees to include communication in their plans.

One of Jackson's first projects at the laboratory was revising "Procedures for Experimenters," a key document for scientists at the laboratory.

"I decided that I would change it, give it a nice, clean design, write it in plain English, liven it up with quotes and give it the iconoclastic Fermilab feel," Jackson said. "This publication looked really different and set the tone for future communication."

She has continued to work to change the way the laboratory communicates with both internal and external audiences.

Jackson was the driving force behind forming Community Task Force, created to learn how the community members would like to interact with the laboratory when issues arose that affected both Fermilab and the neighbors.

"As mayor of Warrenville, Fermilab's neighbor to the east, I have always appreciated the value Judy placed on being a good neighbor and how diligently she worked to ensure that any issues were addressed in a forthright and professional manner," said David Brummel, mayor of the City of Warrenville.

Jackson at the launch of InterActions.org website.

Fermilab Director Pier Oddone also credits Jackson for how the laboratory communicated the budget cuts in 2008 and for being a driving force behind the Employee Advisory Group.

"She's been a counselor for communication at the laboratory and in the broader community," Oddone said. "She's helped us establish a model for how laboratories should work."

The idea of finding out what the audience wanted or how they wanted to be communicated to was a strategy Jackson brought to the laboratory.

"So often in science, we communicate like theorists. We sit in a room and make it all up from first principles. But we need to communicate like experimentalists - to get the data from those with whom we would like to build relationships," Jackson said.

She encouraged the wider particle physics community to use the same strategy.

When the DOE Office of High Energy Physics asked the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel to convey the excitement of the field, they asked Jackson and Calder for help.

As part of the team, Jackson convinced the committee that they would need to hear directly from their customers to learn what the customers wanted. The panel went to Washington, D.C., met with stakeholders and the results were eye opening.

"What they wanted and what we thought they wanted were very different things," Jackson said. "This project started a new model of partnership between communicators and physicists that we continue to use in particle physics to this day."

Jackson, in pajamas, advertises the US LHC pajama party, an event held at Fermilab to celebrate the start of the LHC in 2008.

Mel Shochet, University of Chicago scientist, has worked closely with Jackson when he was CDF spokesperson and most recently as HEPAP chair.

"High-energy physicists are not trained to get their message across effectively to the crucial audiences in Washington. Judy was always there to point out how we ought to phrase it," Shochet said. "She has a wonderful sense of humor and a wonderful sense of style, but is tough as nails when it comes to getting us to communicate well."

Jackson's work with the Department of Energy's Office of Science and the Office of High Energy Physics has played a key role in changing the climate for communication. The report Quantum Universe marked a new way for the laboratories and the funding agencies to work together.

Dennis Kovar, the former head of the Department of Energy's Office of Science, got to know Jackson three years ago when he took over as the head of the Office of Science's High Energy Physics program.

Jackson joined the team of the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) when HEPAP charged the group with putting together a long-range plan for the next decade of particle physics in the U.S.

In the last few years, Jackson was involved in putting together the widely read Accelerators for America's Future report and material.

"From both of these exercises, I came to respect her abilities. She is fantastic at being able to communicate the substance of science and the excitement of the science and the technology," Kovar said. "She has been an important asset to communicating the importance of our field."

In 2004, Jackson and Calder came up with the idea for symmetry, a new magazine to communicate particle physics to the world.

"We believed it would take different and unorthodox methods to go beyond preaching to the choir," Jackson said. "We wanted to reach people who weren't already particle physics fans, people in all kinds of situations, including those in the policy making community. We wanted to create a way for them to relate to this field."

symmetry magazine, which had the motto 'not your fathers' physics magazine', continues to catch the eye of laboratory visitors and science enthusiasts worldwide.

Jackson said she couldn't have accomplished all of these projects and initiatives without a lot of help. She is thankful for the incredible quality of the people in her office, who she called diverse and remarkable and who have extraordinary skills. The office became even stronger, she said, when the Office of Public Affairs joined forces with Visual Media Services to form the Office of Communication in 2008.

"We brought all of these wonderful resources together to create a great team," Jackson said.

Jackson will officially retire at the end of February. She said that while she'll enjoy the view over snow-covered fields from her home in Vermont, she will miss her colleagues.

"I feel so privileged to have worked at Fermilab," Jackson said.

She said she will also miss the people who call to complain about Fermilab.

"These calls are a great opportunity to listen, respond and make a new friend," Jackson said. "Communication is all about building relationships."

-- Rhianna Wisniewski

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