The quantum physicist Prof Michelle Yvonne Simmons has been named the 2018 Australian of the year for her pioneering and inspiring work in the field of quantum computing.

Professor Simmons, nicknamed the ‘quantum queen’, has helped put Australia at the centre of “the space race of the computing era”, the National Australia Day Council said.

Australia’s most prestigious civic honour is awarded each year to a person considered a national role model. PM Malcolm Turnbull presented the award at a ceremony in Canberra on Thursday.

Australia’s Quantum Queen

Professor Michelle Simmons receives the 2018 Australian of the Year award from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Prof Simmons is a graduate of Durham University and moved to Australia in 1999 before becoming a citizen eight years later.

The University of New South Wales scientist now leads a team of more than 200 researchers at eight Australian universities who are developing a suite of technologies for quantum computing, information storage and communications. The objective according to Simmons is to build a quantum computer that can “solve problems in minutes which would otherwise take thousands of years”.

In 2012, she and her team created the world’s first transistor made from a single atom, as well as the world’s thinnest conductive wire – which is 10,000 times thinner than a human hair but has the same current carrying ability of copper.

In 2017, Simmons also established Australia’s first quantum computing company, bringing together representatives of governments, industry and universities in a unique $83 million consortium based at UNSW to develop and commercialise the Centre’s world-leading research.

Her work has the potential to revolutionise all industries, the Australia Day committee said. The enormous processing capacity of a quantum computer, “has the potential to revolutionise drug design, weather forecasting, self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence and much more,” it said in a statement.

“Her achievements and those of her team are hugely exciting for UNSW and for Australia and she is an inspiration to all young people – and women in particular – who aspire to make a difference in the world.

“Seeing women in leadership roles and competing internationally is important [for girls to see],” she said. “It gives them the sense that anything is possible.”

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References: UNSW, BBC, Guardian