Quantum pioneer awarded 2023 PM's Prize for Science

Tuesday, 17 October, 2023

Quantum pioneer awarded 2023 PM's Prize for Science

Leading Australian quantum scientist Professor Michelle Simmons AO, from UNSW Sydney, has received the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for her pioneering developments in quantum computing, which have seen her champion breakthrough advancements to electronic parts for quantum computing — including components as small as one atom.

The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science have been described as Australia’s most prestigious awards for outstanding achievements in scientific research, research-based innovation and excellence in science, mathematics or technology teaching. Recognising achievements across diverse disciplines and career stages with a total of $750,000 in prize money each year, they serve as a tribute to Australia’s world-class science community, as well as the critical role that teachers play in inspiring the next generation of Australian scientists and innovators. The 2023 awards presentation was held at Parliament House on Monday, 16 October.

Simmons, who was named Australian of the Year in 2018, founded Australia’s first quantum computing company, Silicon Quantum Computing, and alongside her team pioneered a new precise style of manufacturing that forms the basis for a new approach to quantum computing. Her efforts have 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 $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation was meanwhile awarded to Professor Glenn King, from The University of Queensland, for his groundbreaking discovery that the venom of the Australian funnel web spider can be used to make pharmaceuticals to treat chronic pain, epilepsy and stroke. He currently serves as Chief Scientific Officer for Infensa Bioscience, which is developing spider venom therapeutics to help treat strokes and heart attacks — with Australian-based clinical trials for heart-related therapeutics planned for 2024.

Additional prizes were as follows:

  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools was presented to Judith Stutchbury, a teacher at Kalkie State School in Bundaberg. Stutchbury 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.
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools was presented to Donna Buckley, for inspiring students with diverse backgrounds by applying mathematics to real-world problems and introducing them to career paths in science-related fields.
  • The $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year was presented to Professor Chris Greening, known for his discovery that microbes help regulate climate change, removing harmful gases from the air.
  • The $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year was presented to Professor Yuerui (Larry) Lu from The Australian National University, whose discovery of interlayer exciton pairs could help to unravel the phenomenon of superfluidity and is paving the way for new electronic devices that are faster and more energy efficient.
  • The $50,000 Prize for New Innovators was presented to Associate Professor Lara Herrero, from Griffith University, who took less than 10 years to translate her research into Ross River virus and other mosquito-transmitted viruses into a world-first drug — with the potential to treat viral arthritis — by repurposing an existing treatment.

“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,” said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

"On behalf of all Australians, I want to thank and congratulate all the 2023 prize recipients for their remarkable contribution to Australian science, and to improving our lives.”

Image caption: Professor Michelle Simmons has been announced as the winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. Image credit: Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

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