Life On The Job


Famous or Historic People

Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons (14 July 1967 - ), AO FRS FAA FRSN FTSE, Quantum Physicist, Australian of the Year 2018, 2023 Prime Minister's Prize for Science

Portrait Michelle Simmons
(Source: ABC Boyer Lectures)

Professor Michelle Simmons is Director of the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at the University of NSW and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow.

Professor Simmons is Director of the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow. She has pioneered unique technologies internationally to build electronic devices in silicon at the atomic scale, including the world's smallest transistor, the narrowest conducting wires, 3D atomic electronics and the first two qubit gate using atom-based qubits in silicon.

 

As founder of Silicon Quantum Computing Pty Ltd, her team is at the forefront of developing a silicon-based quantum computer. Michelle is one of a handful of researchers in Australia to have twice received an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship and now a Laureate Fellowship. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the American Academy of Arts and Science, the American Association of the Advancement of Science, the UK Institute of Physics, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering and the Australian Academy of Science.


Introduction & Education

Michelle Yvonne Simmons was born on 14 July 1967 in London, to a mother who worked as a bank manager and a father who worked as a policeman. Simmons grew up in South-East London with an older brother.

 

In the beginning … a game of chess

Her extraordinary abilities, and a passion for doing “the hard things”, revealed themselves at an early age when she figured out how to play chess simply by watching her father and brother play.

One day at home in the London suburb of Lee she challenged her father to a game. After some headshaking and derisive laughter he reluctantly agreed to take on the upstart novice.

She won.

“It really was a pivotal moment because my dad was someone I got on incredibly well with, still do,” she says.

“But the fact he didn’t expect me to be able to do something was really quite a surprise for me. He realised afterwards he had misjudged things and has since pushed me to do whatever I love.

“He has been very supportive. Doing the hard things is something that’s come from him really.”



NMA
Notice the award's language... "was selected to play for his school" and "and his performance was highly credible"
(Source: National Museum of Australia)

Year 12

"Out of a couple of hundred students in my year at my South-East London comprehensive school, only 16 did A-levels (that’s the equivalent of the HSC); and of those, only two passed.

Growing up in that time, in that part of England, you were not expected to go to university – let alone leave Britain and set up a life at the other end of the Earth.
" (Source: The British Council)


‘They gave us text books and left us on our own.’

Along with her brother she attended the local comprehensive school.

It was very mixed ability and quite rough. But I didn’t know any better and I was quite happy,” she says.

When it came time to do her A levels [the English equivalent of the HSC] the school decided to trial an independent learning scheme.

They gave us text books and left us on our own. The view was that you didn’t need the teachers and – no joke – they would go off to the staff room and leave us alone.

“Most of my friends thought this was terrific and would go off and play cards in the common room. I went to the school labs because I was doing all the science subjects – there was a technician there for safety reasons – but I remember thinking ‘gosh this is great I’ve got a whole lab to myself’.

“I had a phenomenal time in that process of teaching myself
.”

The scheme was, however, a disaster – “Pretty much the whole year failed, but I was lucky enough to scrape through.”
(Source: Campus Morning Mail)

Did You Know?

When I was growing up in England, I liked doing things that were difficult – things that you had to try really hard to succeed at, but that gave you an immense feeling of euphoria when you did. So it’s interesting to admit now that I actually gave up physics at O-Level, because I also really enjoyed biology, chemistry, history and English literature. Shortly into my O-level year, however, I knew I had made an awful mistake.

The consequence was that I ended up doing physics outside school, and it took me a while to catch up. The lesson I learnt was that you can always do the things you enjoy and find easy outside work. But deep problem-solving based on long-term acquired knowledge and technical skills requires consistent effort and is not so easy to pick up in your free time. For me, it was better to do the things that have the greatest reward. Things that are hard – not easy. And things that will continue to challenge you throughout your life.

 

The university years and the Cavendish Laboratory

Simmons attended Durham University in England’s northeast, graduating with a PhD in physics and chemistry in 1992.

On arriving at university she experienced a culture shock: she was from an ordinary London comprehensive, but many other students had attended “very well-to-do schools”.

“I went to see my mentor and I said – ‘I think they have let me in by mistake. I want to tell you about it now so you don’t realise later on and then throw me out’.

“He thought it was the funniest thing. He said ‘I came from a comprehensive too and we do let comprehensive students in here Michelle. There’s nothing wrong with you’.”

 

Early life
Michelle with parents and brother
(Source: One Plus One ABC - Video 29 mins)

Michelle as a young girl
(Source: One Plus One ABC - Video 29 mins)

Michelle Simmons' Dad
Her dad was a crime scene photographer for police.
(Source: One Plus One ABC - Video 29 mins)

Michelle Simmons' Mum
Michelle's Mum - a bank manager
(Source: One Plus One ABC - Video 29 mins)

Michelle as a teenager
Michelle as a teenager
(Source: One Plus One ABC - Video 29 mins)

Michelle Simmons obtained a double degree in physics and chemistry and was awarded a PhD in Physics from Durham University, UK in 1992.

She decided that she liked Physics better so went on to study this at a PhD level.

Her Postdoctoral position was as a Research Fellow in quantum electronics at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, UK where she gained an international reputation for her work in the discovery of the ‘0.7 feature’ and metallic behaviour in 2D Gas hole systems.

In 1999, she was awarded a QEII Fellowship and came to Australia where she was a founding member of the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology.

Career

She has established a large research group dedicated to the fabrication of atomic-scale devices in silicon and germanium using the atomic precision of a scanning tunneling microscope. Her group is the only group world-wide that can make atomically precise devices in silicon: they have developed the world’s thinnest conducting doped wires in silicon, and the ability to manipulate and electronically measure devices with atomically precise dopant placement.

She has published more than 400 papers in refereed journals with an h-index of 37 including 26 Physical Review Letters and papers in Nature, Science, Nature Physics and Nature Nanotechnology.

In 2005 she was awarded the Pawsey Medal by the Australian Academy of Science and in 2006 became one of the youngest elected Fellows of this Academy.

Michelle has been the Chair of the National Committee for Physics, who released the 2012 decadal plan for physics in Australia. She serves on numerous Advisory Boards including the Advisory Board of American Chemical Society Nano Letters and Nanotechnology; Expert Advisory Board Sandia National Laboratories; Review Board, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and was recently appointed to the Expert Advisory Panel for the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology in New Zealand.

In 2008 she was awarded a second Federation Fellowship and in 2012 was the NSW Scientist of the Year.

 

Did You Know?

When
Professor Simmons was made Australian of the Year in 2018, she spoke about the importance of not being defined by other people's expectations of you. She said, "Don't live your life according to what other people think. Go out there and do what you really want to do".

She is passionate about encouraging girls to pursue a career in science and technology. "Seeing women in leadership roles and competing internationally is important. It gives them the sense that anything is possible", she said
.
(Source: Wikipedia)


Australian of the Year 2018
(Source: UNSW)

Experiences & Opportunities:

  • 2023 - Prime Minister's Prize for Science
  • 2019 - Appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) - 10 June
  • 2018 - Australian of the Year
  • 2017-  Director, Silicon Quantum Computing Pty Ltd.,
  • 2014   Editor-in-Chief, Nature Partner Journal Quantum Information
  • 2013   Laureate Fellowship, Australian Research Council
  • 2011- Director, Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology
  • 2009- Scientia Professorship, University of New South Wales
  • 2007 - Became an Australian citizen

 

YouTube Videos

 

YouTube: Professor Michelle Simmons: Australian of the Year 2018

Professor Simmons' speech at the 2018 Australian of the Year Awards
https://youtu.be/CRle7TXasuY?si=4g31JLhLd7x48VD6

 

YouTube: Professor Michelle Simmons: 2023 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
https://youtu.be/6VKJPCAWxX0?si=L54rYtOulG-jS3gt

 

 

Michelle Simmons winning PM's Award 2023
Michelle Simmons winning Prime Minister's Prize for Science October 2023
(Source: UNSW)

 

YouTube: Michelle Simmons - BTN Science Legends
https://youtu.be/NQUkZBV2Lg0?si=8NG5iITKZ9x3H1Of

 

YouTube: Michelle Simmons AO: Leading Australia in the race to build the world’s first quantum computer
https://youtu.be/Xbhw2KhHR0w?si=6_UG3ntbjj-9Ong2

 

YouTube: Quantum scientists demonstrate world-first 3D atomic-scale quantum chip architecture
https://youtu.be/8JB7ncztJWs?si=unJMz1qW8h-nZUDH

 

YouTube: The Einstein Lecture: The Quantum Computing Revolution 14 August 2018 (1hour 9 mins)
https://youtu.be/FnPp73F5cnE?si=ZpzvUyofwcdieIOr

 

YouTube: Major breakthrough in quantum computing - Sky News 23 June 2022
https://youtu.be/AI9YcPCyUnc?si=39U3zJgKy_TSMZjQ

 

YouTube: Michelle Simmons | Engineering Qubits in Silicon with Atomic Precision 2022
https://youtu.be/InVEKVm2P24?si=EjUO2R1xdDb8oJGe

 

Did You Know?

This article is taken directly from The British Council.

It provides insight into why Michelle chose to work and live in Australia.

The British Council


Life is full of ironies. In my south-east London home, when I was a little girl, my older brother Gary, whenever I got a little too annoying, used to joke with me: ‘One day I am going to buy you a one-way ticket to Australia’. As things turned out he didn’t need to, because in 1999 I came here of my own volition; and in 2007 I became an Australian citizen.

Out of a couple of hundred students in my year at my South-East London comprehensive school, only 16 did A-levels (that’s the equivalent of the HSC); and of those, only two passed.

Growing up in that time, in that part of England, you were not expected to go to university – let alone leave Britain and set up a life at the other end of the Earth.

For some reason, I always kept that plane ticket that brought me to Australia, and just a year ago I had it framed and sent to my brother for his 50th birthday. Ironically, and a little sadly for my father, my brother now lives in the US, and I live here – and I joke with Gary that I got the much better deal. Only it’s not a joke.

I want to share with you why I came here, and why I choose to stay. I also want to leave you with a sense of why Australia is well placed to realise the next revolution in computing – the Quantum Revolution.

Working at Cambridge University, in the semiconductor physics group, I learned to design, fabricate and measure electronics devices: three completely different skill sets, a unique combination that makes you the master of your own destiny. But there also came a point when I wanted to find a more ambitious project to work on than the very fundamental physics they were doing there. I was drawn to the technological challenge of trying to create new devices that had never been made before, where each atom had to be put in place to engineer a particular effect – in essence, to create electronic devices at the atomic scale.

It was this that brought me to Australia.

Back in the 1980s, IBM invented a new kind of microscope – a scanning tunnelling microscope – which for the first time enabled humans to ‘see’ individual atoms. These are fabulous tools: giant stainless-steel contraptions that fill a room with a vacuum inside akin to that in outer space.

But seeing atoms was just the beginning. In the 1990s, IBM found a way to exploit this technology to actually move atoms around on a surface. But it’s one thing to push a few atoms around and make a logo; quite another to take that technology and create an electronic device where the active, functional component is a single atom.

It was in the hope of realising this dream that, in 1998, I applied for fellowships in Australia and in Cambridge, and for a faculty position at Stanford in the US. As a young academic you are taught that the prestige of the institution you work at is very important. However, when I was offered the Australian fellowship, I accepted immediately. It was a decision that perplexed not only my colleagues overseas, but also many Australians. When I arrived here, people would ask me, ‘Why on earth did you come?’ But the choice was easy.

I did not want to stay in the UK. The structure was too hierarchical, and research problems somewhat esoteric. I didn’t want to just answer a fundamental physics question, I wanted to build something – something that might turn out to be useful. At the time, the British research system seemed too peppered with pessimistic academics who would tell you a thousand reasons why your ideas would not work.

American culture was more appealing than this, but it too had its limitations. The US offered a highly competitive environment where you would fight both externally and internally for funds and be beholden to a senior mentor.

Australia offered the freedom of independent fellowships and the ability to work on large-scale projects with other academics from across the country.

To this day I am delighted with my choice, and firmly believe that there is no better place to undertake research. Australia offers a culture of academic freedom, openness to ideas, and an amazing willingness to pursue ambitious goals.

When I moved to Australia, electronics research in silicon was dominated by the semiconductor industry and focused on Moore’s Law. Have you ever noticed that every year your computing devices are getting smaller and faster? Many years ago Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, noted that the number of transistors on a silicon chip was doubling every 18 months to two years. In practice, this meant that each individual transistor had to be decreasing in size at the same rate. This led to a prediction in the late 1990s that by 2020 we would reach the level of individual atoms.

In recent years, we have used scanning tunnelling microscopes here in Sydney to pioneer a unique strategy to build electronic devices in silicon at the atomic scale. We have created a stack of world-first atomic-scale devices. We have built the world’s smallest transistor, in which the active functional part is just a single atom, beating those industry predictions from Moore’s Law by nearly a decade. Following this we fabricated the world’s narrowest conducting wires in silicon, and all the elements of a quantum electronics integrated circuit.

These achievements have not just been published in the usual scientific places. They have also made it into the Guinness Book of World Records – as my son discovered one day to his great surprise while sitting in his school library.

On the back of these research successes in pioneering the completely new field of atomic electronics, we have attracted to Australia some incredible young scientists from all parts of the world – from Europe, the UK, the US and Asia – some of whom have also decided to make Australia their permanent home. Most exciting of all, though, is that we are now on a mission to build a complete prototype quantum computer for which all the functional elements are manufactured and controlled at the atomic scale.

The Conversation

The significance of this for Australia should not be underestimated. Today there is an international race to build a quantum computer, and the field is highly competitive – it’s been called the space race of the computing era. Australia has established a unique approach with a globally competitive edge that has been described by our US funding agencies as having a two to three-year lead over the rest of the world.

Quantum physics is hard. Technology at the forefront of human endeavour is hard. But that is what makes it worth it. I strongly believe that the things that are most worth doing in life are nearly always hard to do.

When I was growing up in England, I liked doing things that were difficult – things that you had to try really hard to succeed at, but that gave you an immense feeling of euphoria when you did. So it’s interesting to admit now that I actually gave up physics at O-Level, because I also really enjoyed biology, chemistry, history and English literature. Shortly into my O-level year, however, I knew I had made an awful mistake.

The consequence was that I ended up doing physics outside school, and it took me a while to catch up. The lesson I learnt was that you can always do the things you enjoy and find easy outside work. But deep problem-solving based on long-term acquired knowledge and technical skills requires consistent effort and is not so easy to pick up in your free time. For me, it was better to do the things that have the greatest reward. Things that are hard – not easy. And things that will continue to challenge you throughout your life.

There’s a message here for our educators, our scientists and for all Australians.

If we want young people to be the best they can be – at anything – we must set the bar high and tell them we expect them to jump over it. My strong belief is that we need to be teaching all students, girls and boys, to have high expectations of themselves.

The foundations of research in Australia are extremely strong. Having established highly competitive research fellowships and highly collaborative Centre of Excellence funding schemes, Australia has become an increasingly popular destination for ambitious research projects. Ultimately, while research is an international endeavour, I am grateful for that Australian readiness to give things a go, and Australia’s enduring sense of possibility. There will always be a bit of South London in me. I remain British as well as Australian. But I could not be happier to have made my journey all those years ago to live on the other side of the earth

Links

The British Council

The British Council
The Conversation 19 October 2023

The Conversation
The Conversation 12 February 2014 written by Michelle Simmons

The Conversation

The Conversation 29 January 2018

The Conversation

 

National Portrait Gallery - by Selina Ou in 2018

NPG

 

 

Material sourced from

UNSW [Staff - Michelle Simmons;]
The Conversation [Michelle Simmons; ]
ABC News One Plus One [Michelle Simmons; ]
Wikipedia [Michelle Simmons; ]
The British Council [Michelle Simmons; ]
Campus Morning Mail [Michelle Simmons; ]
Cosmos [Michelle Simmons; ]
ATSE [Inspiring the next generation of physicists; ]

 

 

Menu

Activities

What is an Atom and its parts? A research project

Advice from Michelle!

An explanation of Quantum Physics and the involvement of Michelle Simmons!

 

 

 

What is an Atom and its parts? A research project


PrimaryPrimary
CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking
Literacy
Australian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

1. In pairs or individually, you are to create a presentation about atoms, electrons, protons, and, neutrons.

2. Look at the silicon atom - this is the atom that Michelle Simmons is working with at the moment. Find out as much as you can about silicon.

3. For those who would like to go further - investigate the terms:

  • quarks

  • muon

  • neutrino

  • positron, and,

  • photons

Make sure that your presentation explains what these terms mean.

Simplified atom
Simplified version of parts of an atom
(Source: Lore Central)

 

Resources

1. BBC - Bitesize
2. Twinkl
3. Britannica
4. Britannica - subatomic particles

 

 

 

Advice from Michelle!

MiddleMiddle

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking
Personal and social capability
Australian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

 

1. In groups of 3 - 4 students [or individually], you are to read the following article from the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering [ATSE, Inspiring the next generation of physicists; 2018 ] Read

ATSE

2. Your group is to discuss one of the following thoughts from Michelle

  • Professor Simmons found that many years ago the Australian school curriculum had been made easier and more accessible, an example of which is the reduction of mathematics in physics. Michelle states that it is “critical to get these skills up again, going forward” and that she is “targeting schools to make coding compulsory”.

  • Michelle recalls enjoying challenges from a young age, trying to find the “hardest thing to do” – a mentality that has led her to pick up a variety of skills along the way. She also chooses things she enjoys, including working on the quantum computer, which she says is challenging, rewarding and “hopefully useful when built”.

  • Michelle’s advice to her younger self? Celebrate your weaknesses. Trust your instincts.

  • “If somebody had told me to trust my instincts and follow them, I probably would have got to where I am a bit faster,” she said with a laugh. She also says to embrace doubt. “Doubt is what it is to be a scientist.”

  • Michelle believes in changing your perspective to celebrate your weaknesses and, for her, getting enough sleep was a big one. “I used to stress that I didn’t sleep enough, then I realised that’s my mind thinking, and I should use it.” She started waking early and working early. “I just got on with it.”

  • As a young girl she was very competitive – and still is, according to her friends. She was always told this was a bad thing, until she questioned it. “Now I celebrate it,” she says.

  • Challenge yourself as you get more pleasure when you succeed than when you choose the easy things. Mission in life is to find the most difficult things in life.

 

3. Choose one piece of advice for yourself and reflect how this advice could relate to you. Write a letter to yourself about this advice and how you will implement it.

 

 

 

An explanation of Quantum Physics and the involvement of Michelle Simmons!

High SchoolSecondary

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

 

1. Form groups of 3- 4 students.

Professor Michelle Simmons conducted four Boyer Lectures in October/November 2023. Allocate at least one lecture to each student.

Students are to listen to these lectures and using the Cornell Notes Method write up notes about

  • Quantum Physics

  • The role of Michelle Simmons Listen

Boyer Lectures

 

2. Next read the following articles.

The Conversation 29 January 2018 Read

The Conversation

The Conversation 19 October 2023 Read

The Conversation

And together add to the notes.

3. With another group, share what you have all learnt. Is there any questions you might have? Write them down on a post-it note and put on the whiteboard.

4. With your teacher, categorise the post-it notes. Those questions on the post-it notes that are repeated the most, are to be looked at first.

5. Again, as a group, tackle the problems posed.

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