Jane Richardson grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey and received her BA in philosophy in 1962 and her MA and MAT from Harvard in 1966. Although she does not have a formal PhD, she has been given three honorary doctorates, from Swarthmore (1986), University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (1994), and University of Richmond in Virginia (2003). From 1966 to 1969 she was a technical assistant in the Department of Chemistry at MIT where her husband David Richardson was studying to get his PhD with Professor Albert F. Cotton. In 1969 they solved the crystal structure of Staphylococcal nuclease. They spent a year at the NIH and then came to Duke in 1970, where she was a associate in the Department of Anatomy until 1984, a medical research assistant in the Department of Biochemistry until 1988, and a medical research associate professor in the Department of Anatomy until 1991, when she became a James B. Duke Professor in the Department of Biochemistry.
Richardson's most noted accomplishment has been her ribbon drawings outlining protein structures, first published in 1981. The drawings have been used widely in computer adaptations, and her 1981 paper continues to be cited. Jane and David Richardson have worked together in their lab to figure out the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules. The Richardson Lab was a pioneer in the field of protein de novo design as well as Mage and kinemages, early molecular graphics systems. Jane and David Richardson have been able to learn a great deal about aspects that affect the 3-D shape of proteins and how the 3-D shape affects the behavior of proteins. They have also designed and made synthetic proteins. These synthetic proteins reveal a great deal about how natural proteins work. Jane Richardson is a MacArthur Fellow, a member of the Institute of Medicine, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the recipient of numerous awards.