UNSW quantum founder Michelle Simmons wins $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
Silicon Quantum Computing founder Professor Michelle Simmons has won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for her pioneering work in the cutting-edge sector.
The awards were announced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, with scientists working in biotechnology and teaching also recognised.
It’s a lucrative win for Simmons, who receives $250,000 as part of the prize.
“The achievements of the 2023 recipients reflect the world-class quality of Australia’s science and research sector and the dedication of our STEM teachers. It confirms the future of Australian science is stronger than ever,” Albanese said.
“Science is vital to solving the biggest challenges we face — from pandemics to climate change. And science is central to unlocking the next generation of opportunities – creating new jobs, powering new industries, boosting our productivity and helping us embrace new technologies.”
Prof Simmons founded Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC) in May 2017. She’s also the director of the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation at UNSW.
SQC operates out of laboratories at UNSW, began life with a whopping $83 million in a Seed round from UNSW, Telstra, CBA, and Australian and NSW governments.
The federal government has around a one-third stake in SQC, having invested around $40 million, including $25 million in 2017. That includes being part of a $50 million raise in July this year, more than doubling SQC’s valuation from $82.8m a year ago to $195.3 million post-raise.
Simmons and her team have developed the world’s first integrated circuit manufactured at the atomic scale. The circuit, which operates as an analogue quantum processor, gives SQC the ability to construct quantum models for a range of new materials, including pharmaceuticals, materials for batteries, and catalysts.
The prim minister praise Professor Simmons’ efforts as having the potential to be applied across several other fields, including therapeutic drug design, reducing the cost of airline fuel, and creating better fertilisers for agriculture.
The other winners were:
Professor and entrepreneur Glenn King from the University of Queensland, who received the 2023 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation for his ground-breaking discovery that the venom of the Australian funnel web spider can be used to make pharmaceuticals to treat chronic pain, epilepsy and stroke.
Judith Stutchbury, who received the 2023 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools. Ms Stutchbury is a teacher at Kalkie State School in Bundaberg, and has taught students about the importance of marine turtle conservation in the Great Barrier Reef, and authored an award-winning fiction book to promote environmental science.
And Donna Buckley, who received the 2023 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools for inspiring students with diverse backgrounds by applying mathematics to real-world problems and introducing them to career paths in science-related fields.
More on the 2023 prize recipients here.