Pioneer physicist joins elite academy

Scientia Professor of Physics Michelle Simmons has joined the likes of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Alexander Graham Bell as an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Scientia Professor of Physics Michelle Simmons has joined the likes of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Alexander Graham Bell as an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Professor Simmons is a world leader in the field of quantum computing and described by her colleagues as “inspirational”. She is the director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology at UNSW and was last year awarded an ARC Laureate Fellowship.
There are currently only 10 Australian Foreign Honorary Members of the Academy. For Professor Simmons, the rare distinction of being elected to join more than 250 Nobel laureates and leaders from academia, business, the humanities and the arts came as a “complete surprise”.
“I am incredibly honoured to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This is such an exciting time for quantum computing internationally and our research here at UNSW is at the forefront of this global effort,” she said.
Professor Simmons harnesses the power of atoms to develop super-fast, super-small devices that can process huge amounts of data. The ultimate aim of researchers in this field is to develop a commercially-viable quantum supercomputer that can complete in days extraordinarily complex tasks that would currently take decades.
Her research group at UNSW developed the world’s smallest working transistor, a crucial component of a future quantum computer. The research was published in Nature Nanotechnology in 2012, marking a technological achievement 10 years ahead of industry predictions.
The lab is now the only one in the world able to make atomically precise devices in silicon, including the thinnest conducting wires yet produced. They are 1000 times narrower than human hair.
UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer congratulated Professor Simmons on the honour.
“I am delighted that this international recognition has been accorded to Scientia Professor Simmons.
“Michelle has not only established herself as a quantum computing pioneer, but has also built a formidable research team at UNSW. Under her leadership, the group has achieved a number of world-first research breakthroughs,” Professor Hilmer said.
Professor Simmons was awarded a QEII Fellowship in 1999 and came to Australia from the University of Cambridge to be a founding member of UNSW’s Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology.
Over the past decade, her list of achievements and accolades has continued to grow. In 2005, she was awarded the Australian Academy of Science’s Pawsey Medal and, in 2006, became one of the Academy’s youngest fellows. COSMOS magazine named her one of Australia’s top 10 scientific minds under 45 and she was also listed among the Sydney Morning Herald’s 100 most influential people. In 2011, she was named NSW Scientist of the Year.
Professor Simmons has published more than 350 papers in refereed journals, including Science, Nature Nanotechnology and Nature Physics. In the past fortnight she has had papers published in Nature Materials and Nature Nanotechnology.
“We are working to achieve the ultimate in computer miniaturisation – to develop components for the world’s first integrated circuit where all elements are constructed on the atomic scale,” Professor Simmons said.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the oldest and most prestigious honorary societies in the United States and a leading centre for independent policy research. Since its founding in 1780, it has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Meade and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The induction ceremony for the class of 2014 will take place on 11 October at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
More information: The full list of new members is available on the website.
Media contact: Denise Knight, UNSW Media Office, +61 (0)405 207 685,