Selected from a distinguished list of nominees, the 2018 Australian of the Year Awards and Australia Day Honours have recognised the substantial contributions of Australian researchers.

Through the Australian Government’s National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP)—a significant component of Australia's investment in research and development—the Australian Research Council (ARC) supports Australia’s outstanding researchers and provides funding for world-class research projects, infrastructure and facilities.

The ARC is proud to see our exceptional ARC-funded researchers—including 2018 Australian of the Year, Professor Michelle Simmons; Senior Australian of the Year, Professor Graham Farquhar AO; as well as ARC-funded researchers and fellows named on the Australia Day 2018 Honours List—recognised for their valuable contributions to Australian research and innovation in this year’s awards.

2018 Australian of the Year—Professor Michelle Simmons

 Professor Michelle Simmons.

Image: Professor Michelle Simmons.
Image courtesy: 
L’Oréal–UNESCO

ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor Michelle Simmons, has been honoured as the 2018 Australian of the Year, for her pioneering research and research leadership. Together with her team at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T), Professor Simmons is working to develop a quantum computer.

Professor Simmons in her acceptance speech said that “Australian researchers have some unique advantages… I firmly believe there is nowhere else in the world better to do scientific research and challenge what's possible.”

The unique approach taken at CQC2T is to utilise existing silicon-based technology which, once proven, can be scaled upwards to make large circuits, much like those inside contemporary digital processors. 

Because of this promise, the research team at CQC2T has attracted significant additional funding support of $10 million each from Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank. The project has also received support of $26 million through the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).

In the process of developing the technology of a quantum computer, the centre is overcoming significant technological hurdles, and has announced breakthrough developments in atomic scale magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and in creating near-perfect clones of quantum information. In 2012, it created the world’s first transistor made from a single atom, along with the world’s thinnest wire. 

Professor Simmons obtained her PhD in physics from the University of Durham in the UK, and spent six years at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory, before moving to Australia in 1999 to take up an ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship based at The University of New South Wales (UNSW).

This was the first of several ARC fellowships awarded to Professor Simmons, who was twice an ARC Federation Fellow (2003 and 2008), before receiving her current ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship in 2013.

The CQC2T—of which Professor Simmons is the Director—was initially funded by the ARC as a Special Research Centre in 2000, under the leadership of Professor Robert Clarke.

The continued successes of the research team led to funding through three rounds of the ARC Centres of Excellence scheme, beginning in 2003. The ARC has now awarded funding of over $80 million to the research group through the ARC Centres of Excellence scheme.

Prime Minister the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP opened new laboratories at the Centre of Excellence in April 2016, hailing its work as “best in the world”.

Professor Simmons is also an exceptional advocate for women to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) research disciplines. In 2017, she received the Asia/Pacific L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award for her ‘pioneering contributions to quantum and atomic electronics, constructing atomic transistors en route to quantum computers’.

“Women think differently and that diversity is invaluable to technological and research development,” said Professor Simmons in her Australian of the Year acceptance speech.

“It is important not to be defined by other people's expectations of who you are and what you might be.”

Senior Australian of the Year—Professor Graham Farquhar AO

 Professor Michelle Simmons.

Image: Dr Graham Farquhar. 
Image credit: Stuart Hay, ANU.

Another ARC-funded researcher, Distinguished Professor Graham Farquhar AO, a biophysicist based at The Australian National University, has also received an award this year.

Professor Farquhar was named as the 2018 Senior Australian of the Year for his outstanding accomplishments in plant biophysics and photosynthesis that have delivered practical benefits to the agricultural sector.

Professor Farquhar is a multiple ARC grant recipient, with over $2 million awarded to support his research into food security since 2003.

Professor Farquhar has received numerous awards during his distinguished career. Most recently, in 2017, he became the first Australian to win the 2017 Kyoto Prize—the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize.

His research has improved world food security by developing water-efficient varieties of wheat, and he has discovered correlations between slowing wind speeds and climate changes.