Biography of Michelle Simmons

IEEE is hosting its inaugural Quantum Week virtually due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. 12-16 October 2020, the Virtual IEEE Quantum Week will bring together industry professionals, students, researchers, educators, and more. Key topics of the event include quantum research, technology, development, and training.

Dr. Michelle SimmonsOne of the week’s keynote speakers is Dr. Michelle Simmons. One of today’s leading quantum physicists, Dr. Simmons has revolutionized the quantum computing industry through her pioneering work in atomic electronics and atomic precision. Learn about her background, accomplishments, and current work here.

Background in quantum physics and research

Born on 14 July 1967, Dr. Simmons grew up in London, England. Her mother worked as a bank manager and her father as a policeman. Dr. Simmons’s upbringing led her to tackle difficult tasks and work hard to achieve goals.

Exploring physics in education

Dr. Simmons attended Durham University, where she studied physics and chemistry. In 1992, she received her PhD in physics from St. Aidan’s College, also part of Durham University.

Starting a career

Following her graduate studies, Dr. Simmons focused on the field of quantum physics. She spent the 1990s working as a research fellow in quantum electronics at Cambridge University’s renowned Cavendish Laboratory. While there, she made advancements in areas concerning semiconductors, transistors, and quantum physics—all components necessary for developing a quantum computer.

By 1999, Dr. Simmons’s accomplishments gained her international recognition. That year, she received the Australian Research Council’s Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellowship. This opportunity led Dr. Simmons to move to Australia, where she remains today.

Advancing quantum physics

Dr. Simmons’s fellowship created new opportunities for her to improve the quantum physics field. She became known for inventing quantum electronics with atomic precision on the atomic scale.

Likewise, in 2012, she and her university-based research team became the first in the world to make a transistor from a single atom. They later also became the first team to create the smallest silicon wire—ten thousand times thinner than a strand of human hair.

Published papers and other research

Dr. Simmons is a well-published scholar in the scientific community. Her works include articles, books, speeches, and research papers.

Published works

To date, Dr. Simmons has published over 400 studies. Her publications appear in research journals such as Nature Nanotechnology, Science, and New Journal of Physics.

Qubit research

Much of Dr. Simmons’s research revolves around developing components for quantum computers. One of these areas concerns quantum bits, or “qubits.” Formed from atoms, qubits help quantum computers process information and perform tasks. Quantum scientists hope to create enough qubits to power a working quantum computer and reach quantum supremacy.

In 2019, Dr. Simmons and her team published a study in the scientific journal Nature showing how they had created the first two-qubit gate between phosphorus donor electrons in silicon. They used phosphorus atoms inside a silicon chip as qubits and made them communicate two hundred times faster than previously recorded in interqubit coupling. This success paved new ground for the future of quantum computing.

Notable accomplishments

Every year, Dr. Simmons’s accomplishments continue to grow. Her name appears on international prizes, scientific awards, and in halls of fame around the world.

Early awards and recognition

In 2006, the Australian Academy of Science elected Dr. Simmons a fellow. In 2012, she won the New South Wales Scientist of the Year award. In 2014, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences inducted her as a member.

Prizes and awards 2015–2017

In 2015, Dr. Simmons received the Australian Museum Eureka Prize. This achievement highlighted her dedication to leadership in science. One year later, she won the Feynman Prize in Experimental Nanotechnology. In 2017, she became an Asia Pacific L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science laureate.

Success in 2018 and 2019

Several of Dr. Simmons’s most significant accomplishments occurred in 2018. She was named Australian of the Year and also joined the Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific academy. In 2019, she became an Officer of the Order of Australia, an honor celebrating Australian citizens’ achievements.

Current position and work

Today, Dr. Simmons directs various research teams and serves as editor in chief of a leading quantum computing journal. She continues to focus on improving quantum computing.

Director with Australia Research Council

In 2010, Dr. Simmons became the director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T). This organization joins with Australian and international teams in an effort to develop the world’s first quantum computer. The goal of the center’s Precision Qubit Processor Program, which she leads, is to develop a unique quantum processor.

Editor of npj Quantum Information

Dr. Simmons is also the editor of scientific publisher Nature Research’s quantum computing journal, npj Quantum Information. This online-only publication explores topics in quantum information, quantum computing, and quantum information theory.

Founder of Silicon Quantum Computing

In 2017, Dr. Simmons founded Australia’s first quantum computing company, Silicon Quantum Computing. It seeks to create technology that will enable useful quantum computing solutions for multiple users and applications.

Leading toward the future

People look to Dr. Simmons for more than her ability to advance quantum computing. She also acts as a leader and role model for young women breaking into the field of science. She promotes computer and science education initiatives and works hard to encourage rising generations in the field.

Her leadership remains grounded in exploration, discovery, and innovation. To learn more about her, attend her keynote speech during the Virtual IEEE Quantum Week, 12-16 October 2020.


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