Academy Fellows win Australian of the Year awards

January 25, 2018
Professor Michelle Simmons, 2018 Australian of the Year. Photo: L’Oréal Group
Professor Graham Farquhar AO, 2018 Senior Australian of the Year.

The Australian Academy of Science congratulates its Fellows Professor Michelle Simmons and Professor Graham Farquhar AO, who have been named the 2018 Australian of the Year and Senior Australian of the Year respectively.

Professor Michelle Simmons

Professor Simmons, who becomes the first female Fellow from the Physical Sciences to be named Australian of the Year, is the Director of the UNSW-based Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology and is a Fellow of ATSE, the Academy's partner in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program. Her Australian of the Year citation reads:

‘One of the world’s top scientists, Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons has pioneered research that could lead to a quantum leap in computing and reshape the way we live and how we experience the world—her work is helping develop leading technology on a global scale, right here in Australia.

Since arriving in Australia from Britain in 1999, Michelle has transformed the University of NSW quantum physics department into a world leader in advanced computer systems.

In 2012, Michelle and her team created the world’s first transistor made from a single atom, along with the world’s thinnest wire. The breakthrough means Australia is now at the forefront of what Michelle calls the “space race of the computing era”. 

Michelle’s aim is to build a quantum computer able to solve problems in minutes which would otherwise take thousands of years. Such a discovery has the potential to revolutionise drug design, weather forecasting, self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence and much more.’

Academy President Professor Andrew Holmes said Professor Simmons’ leadership in the field of quantum computing, and as a role model for young women scientists, are a shining beacon for Australian science.

“Michelle is someone who has always been willing to try the experiment that others never dared to do and this had paid off many times. What a thrill it is for Michelle's colleagues to be able to share in her wonderful achievements,” Professor Holmes said.

Professor Graham Farquhar

Biophysicist Professor Graham Farquhar is based at the Australian National University at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis. His Senior Australian of the Year citation reads:

‘One of Australia's most eminent scientists, Professor Graham Farquhar is helping reshape our understanding of photosynthesis—the very basis of life on Earth. His work focuses on food security and how the world will feed growing populations into the future.

After growing up with a Tasmanian farming family background, Graham has used his love of science to deliver practical benefits to the agricultural sector. His study of mathematics and physics formed the bedrock of a career creating mathematical models of how plants work. 

His research addresses agriculture and climate change and aims to solve some of the greatest challenges of our generation. Graham has received a string of accolades during his distinguished career for his research examining how water efficient crops can protect food security in a changing climate. Importantly, he has worked to improve world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with less water. 

In 2017 Graham became the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize—the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize. 

From his long-term base at the Australian National University in Canberra, and now aged 70, Graham is tackling some of the most profound challenges facing humanity and the environment.’

Academy Secretary for Science Policy, Professor David Day, said Professor Farquhar is one of Australia’s most eminent scientists and amongst the very best plant biologists in the world. 

“Professor Farquhar’s seminal work on photosynthesis and the way plants use water forms the foundation for improving crop plant production in a world that is facing an ever-increasing demand for food in a changing climate,” Professor Day said.

“He has received many accolades for his crucial research and is a most worthy senior Australian of the year.”

© 2019 Australian Academy of Science

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