Quantum physics professor Michelle Simmons named 2018 Australian of the Year

Australian of the Year: Quantum physics professor Michelle Simmons. Picture: Louie Douvis
Australian of the Year: Quantum physics professor Michelle Simmons. Picture: Louie Douvis

A quantum physics professor whose work has launched Australia into “the space race of the computing era”, a teacher who makes maths accessible and fun, a biophysicist helping to solve the world’s food challenges and a footballer with the world at her feet have been announced as the 2018 Australians of the Year.

The four Australian of the Year award recipients were announced at a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday evening.

The 2018 Australian of the Year is professor in quantum physics Michelle Simmons, from the University of NSW.

Professor Simmons has pioneered research that could reshape the way we live and how we experience the world.

In 2012, her team in the quantum physics department created the world’s first transistor made from a single atom, along with the world’s thinnest wire.

The breakthrough means Australia is now at the forefront of what Professor Simmons calls the “space race of the computing era”. 

The winners 

  • 2018 Australian of the Year – Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons (NSW)
  • 2018 Australia’s Local Hero – Eddie Woo (NSW)
  • 2018 Senior Australian of the Year –  Dr Graham Farquhar AO (ACT)
  • 2018 Young Australian of the Year – Samantha Kerr (WA)

Professor Simmons’s aim is to build a quantum computer able to solve problems in minutes which would otherwise take thousands of years.

Such a discovery has the potential to revolutionise drug design, weather forecasting, self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence and much more.

Professor Simmons came to Australian from Britain in 1999 and has become an evangelist for Australian scientific research and a role model to young scientists everywhere.

The 50-year-old actively encourages all students – girls and boys – to dream big, challenge themselves and to achieve ambitious goals in science. 

Local hero: Western Sydney mathematics teacher Eddie Woo. Picture: Geoff Jones

Local hero: Western Sydney mathematics teacher Eddie Woo. Picture: Geoff Jones

The 2018 Australia's Local Hero is mathematics teacher Eddie Woo, who has achieved fame by making maths fun.

The head mathematics teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School in Western Sydney (the largest secondary school in NSW), Mr Woo started posting videos online in 2012 for a student who was sick with cancer and missing a lot of school.

Before long, he was sharing the videos across the country and beyond.

“Wootube” now boasts more than 100,000 subscribers and has attracted more than 8 million views worldwide and counting.

With infectious enthusiasm, the father-of-three's unique and caring approach to teaching aims to make maths accessible and interesting.

Outside his high school classroom, 32-year-old Mr Woo is a volunteer facilitator with the University of Sydney's Widening Participation and Outreach program and has motivated more than 1400 students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A brilliant student, Mr Woo could have chosen any field, but in defiance of social convention and his parents’ wish for him to become a doctor, he followed his passion and opted for teaching. Today, he is using his vocation to “pay it forward” and make education equitable for all.

Senior Australian: Biophysicist Dr Graham Farquar. Picture: Stuart Hay

Senior Australian: Biophysicist Dr Graham Farquar. Picture: Stuart Hay

The 2018 Senior Australian of the Year is prize-winning biophysicist Dr Graham Farquhar.

One of Australia's most eminent scientists, Dr Graham Farquhar is helping reshape our understanding of photosynthesis – the very basis of life on Earth. His work focuses on food security and how the world will feed growing populations into the future.

After growing up with a Tasmanian farming family background, he has used his love of science to deliver practical benefits to the agricultural sector. His study of mathematics and physics formed the bedrock of a career creating mathematical models of how plants work.

His research addresses agriculture and climate change and aims to solve some of the greatest challenges of our generation.

Dr Farquhar has received a string of accolades during his distinguished career for his research examining how water efficient crops can protect food security in a changing climate. Importantly, he has worked to improve world food security by developing strains of wheat that can grow with less water.

In 2017 Dr Farquhar became the first Australian to win a Kyoto Prize – the most prestigious international award for fields not traditionally honoured with a Nobel Prize.

From his long-term base at the Australian National University in Canberra, and now aged 70, Dr Farquhar is tackling some of the most profound challenges facing humanity and the environment.

Young Australian: Soccer star Samantha Kerr. Picture: Tony McDonough

Young Australian: Soccer star Samantha Kerr. Picture: Tony McDonough

The 2018 Young Australian of the Year is sportsperson Samantha Kerr.

When her dream of playing for the West Coast Eagles was shot down because she was the “wrong” gender in a male-dominated sport, Ms Kerr switched to another football code – soccer. By the time she was 15, she was representing Australia in the Matildas.

Now, aged 24, Ms Kerr has held contracts with Sydney FC, Perth Glory and is in her fifth season in America's National Women's Soccer League, recently becoming its all-time leading goal scorer. In 2017, she was named a finalist for FIFA Female Player of the Year.

Arguably the best women's soccer player in the world, the West Australian is an engaging ambassador for all women's sport. Her love for the game and her country is infectious.

While she celebrates her prolific goal-scoring ability with a trademark backflip, Ms Kerr is a well-grounded athlete who inspires young and old with her athletic prowess and sportsmanship.

Her prodigious football skills are the basis of her stellar career, but her professionalism, commitment to being best on field and her remarkably mature approach to life stand as admirable examples to young women everywhere.

National Australia Day Council chairperson Danielle Roche congratulated the 2018 Australian of the Year Award recipients.

“Michelle, Eddie, Graham and Samantha are inspirational Australians whose contributions are making our wonderful nation a better place and making a real difference to the lives of others,” she said.

“They are breaking down barriers, forging new futures, looking at old problems in different ways and creating new pathways.

“They are a truly extraordinary group of people, and through their success, they remind us we all have something to contribute.”

Nominations for the 2019 Australian of the Year are now open at australianoftheyear.org.au.

This story Quantum leap for woman named 2018 Australian of the Year first appeared on Central Western Daily.


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