Michelle Simmons: double ARC funding and focus on translation

James Riley
Editorial Director

Silicon Quantum Computing chief executive and 2022 Bakerian Medal winner Michelle Simmons says incoming industry minister Ed Husic’s focus on research translation and building Australian-designed and engineered technology here is great news for the country.

The former Australian of the Year says the next five years will be critical for the local quantum computing sector and whether Australia is able to fully capitalise on its formidable, long-term research investments in the emerging industry.

Professor Simmons said that any time there is a change of government it brings with it fresh excitement about the possibilities for the future.

“I am personally very excited about Ed Husic taking the [Industry minister] role,” she said. “I have heard him talking about the importance of manufacturing here in Australia, and backing the research and technology that is built, designed and engineered here in Australia.”

[Silicon Quantum Computing] is a company trying to do exactly that and having a minister that believes it can be done here – and who is going to support and promote that – is fantastic news.”

Michelle Simmons: Cultural change is required to create a national thirst for success

Professor Simmons said the quantum computing field had well and truly left the laboratory and was now a part of mainstream business conversations. And although the technology would evolve over time, just as transistor technology evolved to integrated circuits to calculators then personal computers, quantum technology was on a similar journey.

But the next five years would be critical to Australia deriving commercial returns from its decades of research investment, she said. And Australia has some advantages that good policy decisions can drive the industry further.

Specifically, she says that for a country with such a strong quantum computing research pedigree, its economy and institutions are at a manageable size where “we can bring government, industry and universities together to help fund some of the technologies where we lead.”

“That is the thing I’m most excited about. There has been an uptick in momentum and people have realised that we really have something quite special here,” Professor Simmons said.

“We’ve got Cathy Foley as Australia’s Chief Scientist, putting out a national strategy in quantum which she has been working on this year through a very consultative process. It’s really galvanised the whole sector, to realise that we are in a globally unique position because we have got in early,” she said.

“There are a lot of companies that have been established, like Quintessence Labs, Q-CTRL, or Silicon Quantum Computing that have been around for a while and built fairly large teams. You can see what they’re publishing, you have a sense of longevity of those companies that are growing steadily – and that’s very exciting.”

On policy suggestions for the incoming government, Professor Simmons has two priorities. The first is “very easy” and a “no-brainer” – to double the money for the Australian Research Council for fundamental research.

The second is to put a sharp focus on research translation “looking at the mechanisms for companies that are trying to produce products here in Australia and helping them out, looking at co-funding models with government, industry and universities. That’s very exciting.”

“Along with that, doubling the amount of money for the ARC for fundamental research is a no brainer for me,” Professor Simmons said.

“It hasn’t happened for a long time. It would be a very easy thing to do that will support the fundamental research where companies like SQC have grown.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

Leave a Comment