John David Jackson was born in London, Ontario on January 19, 1925. His family home was situated along the 900 block of Waterloo Street. David attended nearby Ryerson Elementary School, where his teachers forced him to write with his right hand. When he started at Central High School in 1938, his parents intervened and asked that David be given a left-handed writing desk. This made enough of an impression on the freshman high school student that in his later years he made up a Powerpoint presentation which he titled 'Being Left-handed'.
Jackson left his impressions of high school as well as his undergraduate life at Western University in his "Snapshots of a Physicist's Life" (Annual Reviews of Nuclear and Particle Science, 1999.49:1-33).
In high school, Jackson felt that physics was poorly taught (by a PhD), but he really enjoyed chemistry as taught by Mr. McCallum and analytic geometry taught by Mr. Hall.
Jackson's memories from Western show his lasting impressions of teachers and subject matter, "Chemistry had a kind but boring lecturer and disappointing, qualitative labs; physics, taught enthusiastically by the department Head, was at least more quantitative and mathematical. Botany and zoology were endured. By the end of the year I determined to major in Honors Physics and Mathematics".
He considered the physics curriculum as classical, and remembers the laboratories as being old-fashioned, with some difficult instruments to work with, thus giving him great admiration for the experimental physicists of the past.
Jackson further recollects, "In mathematical physics, there was a fine junior-year course taught by Gar Woonton, who later went to McGill before returning to Western in retirement. Most of the course was on Fourier series and their applications, using an ancient book by Byerly. I recall the fascination of the Gibbs phenomenon in a series at points of discontinuity and the satisfaction of solving with Fourier series a heat conduction problem with arbitrary initial conditions. The use of orthogonal expansions has been a part of my life ever since! As a senior (1945–1946), I took graduate electromagnetism from Woonton with a group of returning air force veterans who were working for MAs. I did well enough in my courses that going on to graduate school was an easy decision, thwarting my mother’s earlier hopes that I would rise to the presidency of a local insurance company by becoming an actuary there."
The young student also made an impression on his lecturers. Don Moorcroft, in his history of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Western, writes, "Some of the graduates from this period went on to prominent careers in science. I remember R.L. Allen telling me that he sometimes asked the students in the class to suggest questions for the final exam in the 4th year course in electricity and magnetism which he taught (I think some of their mark was based on the quality of the questions). This led to difficulties for R.L. in 1946 when one of the students provided questions which were too difficult for the instructor, let alone the others in the class. The student's name was J. David Jackson".
David Jackson received his Honors BSc in Mathematics and Physics from Western in 1946.
In "Snapshots of a Physicist's Life", Jackson then recognized, "Not surprisingly, the emphasis on electromagnetism and the radar research of the faculty (which became openly known in my senior year) pointed me in the direction of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)." He was one of four Canadian physics students studying at MIT, where he earned his PhD in 1949.
David Jackson ended his remarkable physics career at the University of California, Berkeley, where his career is briefly summarized, "He taught at McGill University for seven years and at the University of Illinois for ten before coming to Berkeley in 1967. He has held a Guggenheim Fellowship (Princeton, 1956-57), a Ford Foundation Fellowship (CERN, 1963-64), and Visiting Research Fellowships at Cambridge (Clare Hall, 1970) and Oxford (Jesus College, 1988-89). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is the author of a well known graduate text, Classical Electrodynamics (Wiley, 1962, 1975, 1998), as well Physics of Elementary Particles (Princeton Press, 1958) and Mathematics for Quantum Mechanics (W A Benjamin, 1962). He has contributed to numerous summer school lecture series, and for 17 years served as Editor of Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science. Service to the University of California includes Department Chair (1978-81), and Head of the Physics Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (1982-84)."
J. David Jackson passed away in Lansing, Michigan on May 20, 2016, at age 91.
To this day (2016), his "Classical Electrodynamics" book is used as a teaching text at Western.