Michelle Simmons

Michelle Simmons at the Royal Society admissions day in London, July 2018
Michelle Yvonne Simmons

(1967-07-14) 14 July 1967 (age 56)
London, United Kingdom
Alma materDurham University (PhD)
SpouseThomas Barlow
Children1 daughter; 2 sons
Scientific career
FieldsQuantum physics
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
University of New South Wales
Sydney Grammar School
ThesisThe characterisation of CdTe-based epitaxial solar cell structures fabricated by MOVPE (1992)
Doctoral advisorAndrew W. Brinkman[1]

Michelle Yvonne Simmons AO FRS FAA FRSN FTSE (born 14 July 1967) is an Australian quantum physicist, recognised for her foundational contributions[2] to the field of atomic electronics.

She is founding director of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology, and as of 2023 is Scientia Professor of Quantum Physics in the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales.

She has twice been an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow, and is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow. In January 2018, Simmons was named Australian of the Year for her work and dedication to quantum information science, and in June 2019, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours in recognition of her "distinguished service to science education as a leader in quantum and atomic electronics, and as a role model".

Early life and education

Michelle Yvonne Simmons was born on 14 July 1967 in London, to a mother who worked as a bank manager[3] and a father who worked as a policeman.[4] Simmons grew up in South-East London with an older brother.[5]

Between 1985 and 1988 she undertook her undergraduate degree at Trevelyan College, Durham University, where she studied physics and chemistry of materials.[6]

As a postgraduate at St Aidan's College, Durham she was awarded a PhD in 1992 for her thesis "The characterisation of CdTe-based epitaxial solar cell structures fabricated by MOVPE", with research supervised by Andrew W. Brinkman.[6][1]

Career and research

From 1992 to 1998[4] Simmons worked as a research fellow in quantum electronics with Michael Pepper at the Cavendish Laboratory in the UK, where she gained an international reputation for her work in the discovery of the 0.7 feature and the development of 'hole' transistors.[7]

In 1999, she was awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) QEII Fellowship and went to Australia, conducting research for four years under this fellowship.[4] She was a founding member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computer Technology, and as of 2023 remains director of the centre.[8]

She has held several other positions over the course of her career, including:[4]

As of 2023 Simmons is Scientia Professor of Quantum Physics in the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales.[9]


Simmons is well-known internationally for creating the field of atomic electronics,[10] that is, building electronic devices at the atomic scale. Her research team at ARC created the first precision single atom transistor and the narrowest conducting wires in silicon, among other achievements.[8]

Since 2000 she has established a large research group dedicated to the fabrication of atomic scale devices in silicon and germanium using the atomic precision of scanning tunnelling microscopy. Her research group is the only group worldwide that can create atomically precise devices in silicon—they were also the first team in the world to develop a working "perfect" single-atom transistor[11] and the narrowest conducting doped wires in silicon.[12]

Publications and other activities

External videos
video icon Talk on quantum computation on YouTube, TEDx Sydney 2012

Simmons has published over 400 peer-reviewed journal papers, amassing over 9,000 citations, written five book chapters, and published a book on nanotechnology.[13]

She has also filed 44 patents and delivered over 250 invited and plenary presentations at international conferences.[8]

She is the inaugural editor-in-chief of npj Quantum Information, an academic journal publishing articles in the emerging field of quantum information science launched in 2015.[14][15]

She gave the Australia Day address for New South Wales in 2017,[16][17] in which she spoke about the importance of setting high expectations for students.[18]

Simmons delivered the 2023 Boyer Lecture in four parts, titled The Atomic Revolution.[19]

Recognition and awards

As of 2017, Simmons was an elected trustee of Sydney Grammar School.[41]

Personal life and views

Simmons has resided in Australia since 1999, taking citizenship in 2007.[42]

She is married to Thomas Barlow, formerly, a Financial Times columnist[43] and a Fellow of MIT and Balliol College, Oxford,[44] now a novelist and business analyst. They have three children.[45] She says she enjoys "planning expeditions and keeping fit. But the thing that brings me the most joy is my funny husband and three adorable children".[10]

Her heroes in science are Michael Faraday and Nobel Laureate John Bardeen.[10]

Views on education

In her 2017 Australia Day address, Simmons criticised the lowering of standards in physics education in the HSC (Higher School Certificate) curriculum, in which an effort has been made to make physics more appealing to girls by substituting mathematical problem-solving with qualitative responses, remarking that the curriculum had a "feminised nature".[18]

When 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.[46]


  1. ^ a b Simmons, Michelle Yvonne (1992). The characterisation of CdTe-based epitaxial solar cell structures fabricated by MOVPE. Etheses.dur.ac.uk (PhD thesis). Durham University. OCLC 53532609. EThOS uk.bl.ethos.314733. Free access icon
  2. ^ Dargan, James (19 October 2023). "Michelle Simmons, 2018 Australian of the Year, Wins PM's Top Science Prize for Pioneering Quantum Computing in Atomic Electronics". The Quantum Insider. Retrieved 7 November 2023.
  3. ^ "Biography of Michelle Simmons". IEEE Quantum Week 2020. 12 October 2020. Retrieved 7 November 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d "Simmons, Michelle Yvonne (1967–)". Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation. 8 June 2022. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  5. ^ Simmons, Michelle. "Quantum Revolution". British Council. Retrieved 7 November 2023.
  6. ^ a b "Class Notes". Dunelm (5): 33. 2019.
  7. ^ Thomas, K. J.; Nicholls, J. T.; Simmons, M. Y.; Pepper, M.; Mace, D. R.; Ritchie, D. A. (1 July 1996). "Possible Spin Polarization in a One-Dimensional Electron Gas". Physical Review Letters. American Physical Society (APS). 77 (1): 135–138. arXiv:cond-mat/9606004. Bibcode:1996PhRvL..77..135T. doi:10.1103/physrevlett.77.135. ISSN 0031-9007. PMID 10061790. S2CID 8903637.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Quantum Computing". Centre for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology. Australian Research Council. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  9. ^ "Scientia Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons". UNSW Research. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  10. ^ a b c "Quantum physicist - Michelle Simmons". ABC Science. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  11. ^ Fuechsle, Martin; Miwa, Jill A.; Mahapatra, Suddhasatta; Ryu, Hoon; Lee, Sunhee; Warschkow, Oliver; Hollenberg, Lloyd C. L.; Klimeck, Gerhard; Simmons, Michelle Y. (19 February 2012). "A single-atom transistor". Nature Nanotechnology. Springer Science+Business Media. 7 (4): 242–246. Bibcode:2012NatNa...7..242F. doi:10.1038/nnano.2012.21. ISSN 1748-3387. PMID 22343383. S2CID 14952278.
  12. ^ (5 January 2012). "Narrowest conducting wires in silicon ever made show the same current capability as copper". phys.org. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  13. ^ "Select Publications". University of New South Wales.
  14. ^ Ross, John (5 November 2014). "Christopher Pyne launches Nature partner in quantum computing". The Australian. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  15. ^ Smith, Deborah (27 October 2015). "Inaugural articles from first Nature Partner Journal in Australia published" (Press release). Sydney: University of New South Wales. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  16. ^ "2017 speaker: Professor Michelle Y. Simmons". Australiaday.com.au. NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  17. ^ "Your stories: 2018 Australian of the Year, Professor Michelle Simmons (interview)". UniSuper. March 2018. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  18. ^ a b Storm, Mark (24 January 2017). "Australia Day Address orator Michelle Simmons horrified at 'feminised' physics curriculum". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 14 December 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  19. ^ "Professor Michelle Simmons explores "The Atomic Revolution" in her first Boyer Lecture". Radio National. 18 October 2023. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  20. ^ Pawsey medal Archived 14 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Australian Academy of Science. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  21. ^ Professor Michelle Simmons Archived 15 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Australian Academy of Science. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  22. ^ "Honour Roll – NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer". Office of the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  23. ^ a b "Scientia Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons". UNSW Research. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  24. ^ a b "Professor Michelle Yvonne SIMMONS". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  25. ^ "Walter Burfitt Prize". Royal Society of New South Wales. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  26. ^ "Academy Home". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 14 August 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  27. ^ 2015 Fellows: Women again prominent among new ATSE Fellows, Media Release, 14 October 2015, www.atse.org.au
  28. ^ "2015 Foresight Institute Feynman Prize". Foresight Institute. 23 May 2016. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  29. ^ Finkel, Elizabeth (26 September 2016). "Michelle Simmons: a quantum queen". Cosmos Magazine. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  30. ^ "2015 CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science". The Australian Museum. 26 August 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  31. ^ "Announcement of Laureates of 2017 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards : United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization". Unesco.org. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  32. ^ British physicist Michelle Simmons, the 'quantum queen' (Television production). Paris: France24 TV. 8 May 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  33. ^ Pianegonda, Elise; staff (25 January 2018). "Australian of the Year awards: Quantum physicist Michelle Yvonne Simmons receives 2018 honour". ABC News. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  34. ^ "Distinguished scientists elected as Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society". The Royal Society. 9 May 2018. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  35. ^ "Michelle Simmons". Royal Society. Retrieved 10 June 2018. This article incorporates text available under the CC BY 4.0 license.
  36. ^ Bungard, Matt (9 June 2019). "'Extraordinary' Australians honoured in annual Queen's Birthday ceremonies". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  37. ^ "APS Fellow Archive". American Physical Society. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  38. ^ "The Royal Society awards Michelle Simmons the prestigious Bakerian Medal". UNSW Newsroom. 24 August 2021. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  39. ^ Lu, Donna (16 October 2023). "Quantum physicist Michelle Simmons awarded PM's top science prize for computing work". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2023.
  40. ^ "Erna Hamburger Award 2023". EPFL. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  41. ^ "Trustees". Sydney Grammar School. Archived from the original on 21 November 2017. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  42. ^ "Quantum physicist Michelle Simmons named 2018 Australian of the Year". The Sydney Morning Herald. 25 January 2018. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  43. ^ Barlow, Thomas (September 2016). A Theory of Nothing (PDF). Ivory League Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9924159-3-8. Retrieved 7 November 2023.
  44. ^ "Thomas Barlow". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 7 November 2023.
  45. ^ Guillat, Richard (15–16 April 2017). "Star of the sub-atomic". The Weekend Australian. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  46. ^ "Australian of the Year revealed". news.com.au. Retrieved 12 June 2018.