Fellow’s ‘extraordinary journey’ leads to PM’s Science Prize

October 16, 2023

Academy Fellow Professor Michelle Simmons AO FAA FTSE FRS has been awarded the 2023 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for her world-leading research in quantum electronics.

The award recognises her influential contribution to technology that promises to transform many industries—from cryptography to drug design.

Professor Simmons’ efforts have opened a path into the quantum world, bringing us closer to powerful computers that can solve complex problems in minutes, which would have otherwise taken thousands of years.

"Twenty years ago, the ability to manipulate individual atoms and put them where we want in a device architecture was unimaginable,” Professor Simmons said.

“We can now not only put atoms in place but can connect complete circuitry with atomic precision—a capability that was developed entirely in Australia.”

In the early 2000s, she pioneered the field of atomic electronics with research showing that quantum computers might be possible. She and her team have since made several breakthroughs, creating the world’s first single atom transistor in 2012 and the first quantum processor in silicon in 2022.

“Taken as a whole, this has made for an extraordinary journey, and it is the journey that I am proud of more than any specific result,” Professor Simmons said.

The Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales is just as proud of her former students and postdocs, and her current team at Silicon Quantum Computing, as she is of any scientific breakthroughs.

“To develop a pioneering technology takes pioneering people,” she said.

“My team mean the world to me.”

A “strong believer in diversity of thought”, Professor Simmons is passionate about encouraging young people—especially young women and girls—to pursue careers in physics and computing.

“I hope that I can inspire others to take on technologically challenging problems as I honestly believe this is where some of the greatest rewards lie.

“Being a scientist requires enormous perseverance and hard work, but it’s a team game and it is exciting and meaningful work.

“That means, most importantly, it can be a heck of a lot of fun.”

Professor Simmons’ trailblazing research has earned many accolades, including Australian of the Year in 2018 and Officer of Order of Australia in 2019. She was elected to the Academy in 2006—at the time, one of the youngest researchers elected to the Fellowship.

Academy Fellows have featured in the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes each year since the awards’ inception in 2000.

Recipients of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science will be celebrated at a breakfast at the Shine Dome on Tuesday, 17 October. 

For the complete list of 2023 PM Prize winners, visit the Department of Industry, Science and Resources website.

© 2023 Australian Academy of Science