The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Trachette Jackson

Mathematician and professor of mathematics Trachette Jackson was born on July 24, 1972. She attended a large public high school and spent her summers at a math-science honors program hosted by Arizona State University where she developed her passion for mathematics. Jackson was an excellent student and graduated in the top twenty of her class. In 1994, she received her B.S. degree in mathematics from Arizona State University. Jackson earned her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington in 1996 and 1998, respectively. Her Ph.D. thesis was entitled “Mathematical Models in Two-Step Cancer Chemotherapy.” She completed postdoctoral positions with the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications at the University of Minnesota, and at Duke University.

In 2000, Jackson joined the faculty at the University of Michigan as an assistant professor in the mathematics department. She was promoted to associate professor in 2003. In 2006, Jackson was appointed as the co-principal investigator of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded University of Michigan SUBMERGE (Supplying Undergraduate Biology and Mathematics Education Research Group Experiences) program. SUBMERGE is an interdisciplinary program in math and biology that exposes undergraduates to experimental biology within mathematical modeling and gives exposure to quantitative analysis in biology courses. In 2008, she became a full professor in Michigan’s mathematics department. Jackson is the co-founder, and is the co-director, of the the Mathematics Biology Research Group (MBRG). The group organizes lectures, conferences, and workshops for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, among other activities. The main focus of her research in mathematical oncology is combining mathematical modeling and in vivo tumor vascularization to gain deeper understanding of tumor growth and the vascular structure of molecular, cellular and tissue levels.

Jackson has published numerous papers on the subject of mathematical oncology and her work has received international attention. In 2008, Jackson served as senior editor for the academic journal, Cancer Research, and has reviewed articles for the Journal of Mathematical Biology and the National Academy of Sciences. Jackson has received many awards including the Blackwell Tapia Award (2010) and the Arizona State University's Medallion of Merit Award. Trachette Jackson is married to Patrick Nelson and they have two sons, Joshua and Noah.

Trachette Jackson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on 10/22/2012.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Middle Name



Arizona State University

University of Washington

Mesa High School

Powell Junior High School

First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm

Favorite Quote

No matter how far the river flows, it never forgets it's source.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Ann Arbor


United States

Favorite Food

Southern Food

Short Description

Mathematician and math professor Trachette Jackson (1972 - ) , is the co-founder and co-director of the Mathematics Biology Research Group at the University of Michigan.


University of Michigan

Duke University

National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory

University of Minnesota

University of Washington, Department of Applied Mathematics

Arizona State University

Favorite Color

Mauve, Deep Purple

Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Trachette Jackson slates the interview and shares her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Trachette Jackson talks about her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Trachette Jackson talks about her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Trachette Jackson talks about her parents and siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Trachette Jackson talks about her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Trachette Jackson talks about her experiences growing up with her family who moved a lot

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Trachette Jackson talks about growing up in Italy

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Trachette Jackson talks about her teenage years and academic interests

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Trachette Jackson shares her experience as a minority in the academic setting

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Trachette Jackson talks about her high school experience

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Trachette Jackson talks about her experience at Arizona State University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Trachette Jackson talks about her college experience

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Trachette Jackson talks about her graduate school experience

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Trachette Jackson talks about her doctoral research at the University of Washington

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Trachette Jackson talks about her husband, son and her post-doctoral experience at the University of Minnesota

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Trachette Jackson talks about her post-doctoral research at Duke University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Trachette Jackson talks about her career at the University of Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Trachette Jackson talks about the focus of her career research

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Trachette Jackson describes how she spends her work day

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Trachette Jackson talks about the SUBMERGE Program at the University of Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Trachette Jackson talks about her CCMB Pilot Grant funding

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Trachette Jackson talks about the SIAM association and her professional activities

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Trachette Jackson talks about her professional activities and reflects on her career

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Trachette Jackson reflects on the impact of her career and talks about her hopes and concerns for the future

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Trachette Jackson talks about her family and how she would like to be remembered







Trachette Jackson talks about her doctoral research at the University of Washington
Trachette Jackson talks about the SUBMERGE Program at the University of Michigan
Okay. Now I hear that you published a paper, your first professional publication, in 1997 called Population Dynamics and Competition in Chemostat Models with Adaptive Nutrient Uptake.$$Yeah, yeah. So this is the work that I started as an undergraduate at Arizona State University with Betty Tang, and it was sort of looking at a chemostat model of bacteria which was designed to, you know, look at-- sort of resemble what would happen in the stomach or in the gut in terms of bacteria uptake. And so we did some different nutrient applications to see how the bacteria would survive and how they would thrive if they had different conditions within that setting, and that was my first publication.$$Okay. So were you then--like you're measuring the--you're trying to come up with a--I guess a rate of growth of bacteria?$$Right. So one of the inputs into the model is how bacteria--the rate of bacteria growth, but there's all kinds of influences on that rate of growth. And one thing is, you know, the space they have available, the amount of nutrients they have available, how many other bacteria are around them, so competition--all of these things feed into that eventual growth rate. And so we were track and time the population's changes based on all of these influences on how the rate of change is affected.$$Okay. Okay. I know I've heard it said that some of these modern anti-bacterial applica--sprays and--(simultaneous)$$--and so (unclear) and all of--$$--yeah, create more space by killing general bacteria off, create more space for the more resistant bacteria --(simultaneous)$$--that's actually--it is true. So definitely they're a good thing to have, you know, these anti-bacteria's, but not to be used without caution I guess, because you are killing general bacteria and not all bacteria is bad. There are some good bacteria's that even in your stomach, in the lining of your stomach and intestines, some of the bacteria that's there is good. So you don't wanna kill off everything. It's just certain bacteria's that are the dangerous ones that you don't need in your system.$$Right, right. Okay, so I guess--you finished your PhD and your work in '97' [1997]? Is that true?$$Ah, '98' [1998]. I got my PhD in '98' [1998].$$--(simultaneous) '98' [1998]? Okay. And tell us about your dissertation. We have a title here. I guess--this is the Theoretical Analysis of Conjugate Localization in Two-Step Cancer Chemotherapy, with a brief yet detailed description of how tumors can form an afflicted--in an afflicted person's body.$$Yeah. So my dissertation came about in actually kind of a strange way. I was a graduate student looking around for different topics that I thought would be interesting to work on. I knew I wanted to do something in cancer, and so I went and researched and looked around the Seattle [Washington] area to see who's doing cancer chemotherapy, who's doing something that might be amenable to mathematical modeling, and I found a group at a bio--pharmaceutical company, I guess. And they were sort of developing these new drugs, a new drug targeting strategy for cancer chemotherapy, and they came in and the lead guy's name was Peter Center. He came in and gave a talk in our Applied Math department, and immediately I knew, based on what he had said, that this is something that I thought I could use my skills as a mathematical model or mathematician, to sort of address. So we started collaborating on trying to figure out the best way to administer these targeting strategies. So what these are is--so traditional chemotherapy, you know, you inject some drug into your body. This drug is supposed to act on cells that are rapidly dividing like cancer cells would be, but they cannot distinguish if those cells that are rapidly dividing are your hair cells or other cells in your body. So it destroys cells in general. The idea behind the mechanisms of the therapies they wanted to give were to target--sort of this magic bullet idea, of targeting the cancer cells specifically, and leaving all the other cells alone. So what they wanted to do was give--first inject the patient with a pro drug, a drug that's not harmful to any other cells in the body, but that drug would find tumor cells. So it would bind particular markers that only exist on tumor cells. And then they would give an enzyme, again, completely non-toxic enzyme, that only when it found the pro drug would catalyze a reaction that made a drug. So the idea is that the pro drug finds the cancer and marks it, highlights it in red, and then the enzyme goes directly there and only there does it catalyze a reaction that makes drug. So you make drug at a tumor site instead of injecting drug throughout the body. So we developed an extensive set of equations to model the delivery of these to anti-cancer agents, the reaction that makes the drug, the binding and targeting of the tumor cells, and we were able to come up with some special optimal situations where you get more drug created in the tumor than you do in the blood, and we could say what kinds of treatment strategies, you know, how much should you give, how long should you wait to give the next dose, all of those kinds of things based on these mathematical models. So we could make predictions about those kinds of things. So that was kinda the crux of my dissertation was modeling this new therapy for cancer.$$Okay. Okay. So you received your PhD in 1998, right?$$Em hm.$$And now, did you do a--your advisor was James Murray?$$He was, he was, yeah.$Okay. Okay. Now in 2006, you received a National Science Foundation grant for University of Michigan SUBMERGE Program.$$Yeah.$$Can you tell us what SUBMERGE [Supplying Undergraduate Biology and Mathematics Education and Research Group Experience] is about?$$Yeah. So SUBMERGE is about merging the subjects of mathematics and biology for undergraduates and this came about because of, you know, my love for undergraduate education and I'd had several undergraduate students who'd worked with me over the summers who were very very good. And I just wanted a mechanism to support more students in this way, give more students the opportunity to really get a hands-on knowledge of mathematical biology early on. So, together with some other faculty on campus, we put in a proposal to have a--to develop research groups of undergraduates where they would work in teams. We would have students from mathematics and students from biology paired up with faculty from mathematics and faculty from biology, so we'd have this inter-disciplinary mix of students and faculty and they'd work together on long-term projects. Not just during the summer but during the academic year, and really sort of get an idea of--give the students an idea of how to talk to each other from different disciplines, how to work together on an inter-disciplinary project, and how to make progress on something within math biology. Hopefully, leading towards a publication for them.$$Okay. Okay. So that was (unclear) so did they publish--$$Yeah, so we had--we had cohorts of four to eight students come in every year, and the program has been really really successful. Almost all teams that have worked through the program have published a paper. Our first group that came through in around 2006, 2007, many of them went off to medical school. The ones that didn't go to medical school got into very good graduate schools, we had several best poster prizes at national conferences, so the students and their research was very well-received and we're very proud of the students who came through the program.