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Michelle Simmons

Australian of the Year Awards 2018

Professor Michelle Simmons

Professor in quantum physics

2018 Australian of the Year for New South Wales

Michelle Yvonne Simmons

One of the world’s top scientists, Professor Michelle Simmons has pioneered research that could lead to a quantum leap in computing. Michelle’s discoveries have the potential to revolutionise drug design, weather forecasting, self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence. An advocate for Australian scientific research, she is a role model to young scientists everywhere.

House of Staunton chess set and certificate

Michelle Simmons relishes a challenge, which is fortunate given that she works with cutting-edge technology in the field of quantum physics.

As a child, Michelle played competitive chess. A challenging, strategic, all-consuming game, it was an unusual activity for a girl, as evidenced by the certificate on display. This chess set and certificate remind Michelle to stay focused and push boundaries.

House of Staunton chess set and certificate
House of Staunton chess set and certificate, on loan from Michelle Simmons.

Proving people wrong

'For years I was a silent observer to my father’s and brother’s games of chess. When I finally asked to play, my father reluctantly agreed. I was 8 at the time. He played me whilst chatting with my mother, not paying much attention – I was fully focused. To his horror, I won. When people don’t expect things of you, that makes you want to prove them wrong.'

Mastering the difficult

'Quantum physics is hard but that’s what makes it worth it. I strongly believe that the things most worth doing in life are nearly always hard to do. Every day I wake up excited to go and do, and look forward to that euphoric feeling of figuring out something incredibly difficult.'

Be daring

'Australia offers a culture of academic freedom, openness to ideas, and an amazing willingness to pursue goals that are ambitious. And the results speak for themselves – we have achieved tremendous success in our endeavour, largely because we gave things a go that the rest of the world didn’t dare to try.'


This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images courtesy National Australia Day Council.