Professor Michelle Simmons, a quantum physicist from the University of New South Wales and the 2018 Australian of the Year, has received the highest distinction at the Prime Minister’s Science Awards.
Celebrating its 24th year, these awards are Australia’s leading honours for scientific achievements and education. Recognized for her foundational contributions to atomic electronics, Simmons’ groundbreaking discoveries are paving a new direction in quantum computing.
“It’s a really special and wonderful thing,” said Simmons of the $250,000 prize.
Simmons said she was initially drawn to the field by the allure of “building things that have not been made before, with the potential to have a huge impact on computing power”.
As the creator of Silicon Quantum Computing, Australia’s inaugural quantum computing firm, she and her team aim to build the world’s first fault-tolerant quantum computer, a significant milestone in the domain.
“We’re the only company in the world that can manufacture with atomic precision,” said Simmons. “My belief is that precision is what you need to create this error-corrected quantum computer. We’ve been able to put down individual atoms of phosphorus in silicon and encode information on both the electron and the nucleus of the phosphorus atom,” she added. “It’s something that was kind of unimaginable 20 years ago, that we would know how to manipulate and build devices where we’ve got atomic precision … in all three dimensions.”
The 2023 awards also celebrated other distinguished researchers such as Prof Chris Greening, noted for his findings on how microbes extract gases from the atmosphere; Prof Yuerui (Larry) Lu, the innovator behind the thinnest micro-lens globally; and Associate Prof Lara Herrero, the pioneer of a pioneering drug with the potential to address viral arthritis.
Featured image: Prof Michelle Simmons has been awarded the 2023 prime minister’s prize for science, in recognition of discoveries that form the basis of a new approach to quantum computing. Photograph: Prime minister’s prizes for science