Four brilliant women in quantum share what inspires them on International Women's Day
We speak with four Sydney Quantum Academy academics and students about their experiences and what inspires them.
By Rose Drover, Sydney Quantum Academy, @WildScied
The 8th of March is UN International Women’s Day (IWD), with the official theme ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’. The theme celebrates the ‘tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future’.
To celebrate the achievements of the many outstanding Women in Quantum research, we're featuring four Sydney Quantum Academy academics and students at various stages of their careers. They're sharing their experiences and what inspires them on International Women's Day.
Professor Michelle Simmons, UNSW
“In my life, I’ve really lived to four mantras: do what’s hard, place high expectations on yourself, take risks and do something that matters. And these ideas have kept me going when things have got tough.”
Arguably one of Australia’s leading scientists, Professor Michelle Simmons is as accomplished as they come in the field of quantum physics. Known for her team's pioneering research into the creation of a silicon-based quantum computer, Professor Simmons is Director of the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) at UNSW Sydney. Professor Simmons and the team at CQC2T are responsible for producing many ‘world firsts’ in quantum technology, including the longest coherence times, highest-fidelity qubits in a solid-state, the ability to optically address single dopant atoms in silicon, the lowest noise silicon devices, and the first two-qubit gate in silicon.
Using technology developed at CQC2T, Professor Simmons founded a commercial venture known as Silicon Quantum Computing in 2017, launched with over A$83 million of capital funding from the Australian Government, UNSW Sydney, Commonwealth Bank, Telstra and the NSW Government.
Recently, she was named the 2018 Australian of the Year – a huge recognition of her pioneering research, which took her on a year-long journey across the continent inspiring young students and women to consider a career in science.
“I do believe that women think differently, and that diversity of thought is invaluable to technological and research development,” said Professor Simmons in her acceptance speech.
Since then, Professor Simmons and her team often share their ground-breaking research in action with young students by opening the doors of the CQC2T in the hopes of offering an insight into the possibilities a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) offers.
“When I was younger, I visited a fabrication plant in the US, and observed how they make semi-conductor chips. It completely opened my mind to the world of possibility that was out there. I remember thinking that all children should see this.
“So here we are in Australia, we've got this great facility of building chips in-house, so I'm hoping we opened the students’ eyes to what's out there, to all the kind of jobs they can have, and just get them excited by science,” Professor Simmons said.
Dr Christina Giarmatzi, UTS
“What I love about my research is that I get to be like a kid and explore how nature works, and how we can manipulate the natural laws to do something useful. For example, writing down an algorithm for quantum chemistry might lead to a perfect simulation of how a particular drug might work, which would lead to great discoveries in medicine.”
What do you imagine when you think of a quantum physicist? Dr Christina Giarmatzi is here to change all that. The UTS quantum theorist is a passionate photographer who skates, surfs and plays guitar when off the clock.
Dr Giarmatzi began her career in quantum with a Physics Degree in her home country of Greece, then moved to Paris to study her Masters in Optics. After experiencing a setback in her first PhD in Brussels, she moved to Australia to complete her PhD at The University of Queensland (UQ) in 2018. Here she received the Dean's Commendation and the Springer Award which saw her thesis published by the prestigious Springer Nature publishing company — a huge accomplishment for a PhD student. She remained at UQ as a postdoctoral researcher for two years, then took a six-month break on the Sunshine Coast to live adventurously, enjoying nature and her love of surfing.
Dr Giarmatzi was recently awarded a three-year Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA) Postdoctoral Fellowship to complete research at the UTS Centre for Quantum Software and Information with A/Prof Christopher Ferrie. Her research will use semidefinite programs and artificial intelligence to learn more about non-Markovian noise in quantum setups. “Reducing or correcting this noise will help improve the performance of quantum computing platforms. This will enable quantum computers to solve more complex problems in the future,” says Dr Giarmatzi.
Dr Christina Giarmatzi believes diversity in science is necessary as “the way people have grown up, their environments, cultural backgrounds, all contribute to the way they think”. “Having a number of scientists that think the same way does not seem like an efficient way of doing things,” she says.
Dr Zixin Huang, Macquarie University
“Being a postdoctoral researcher means that I get to wake up in the morning and decide which problem I want to solve (within reason); in terms of job satisfaction, it doesn't get much better. I also get to work with some of the most brilliant people coming from diverse backgrounds and fields.”
Many of us dream of a job doing what we love. Quantum physicist, Dr Zixin Huang, doesn’t have to dream. She’s a Sydney Quantum Academy Postdoctoral Fellow whose research has taken her across the globe to collaborate with other physicists on ways to improve quantum imaging and sensing.
Her research at the Macquarie Centre for Quantum Engineering has important applications for astronomy, working on theories that will allow astronomers to move from using microwaves into the optical. “With enhanced quantum imaging we’ll be able to probe deeper into space, with unprecedented resolution compared to using classical optics alone,” says Dr Huang.
“What excites me about quantum technologies is that it opens up endless possibilities and imagination is the limit.”
Dr Huang believes working with researchers of diverse backgrounds is critical for allowing different perspectives to shine through during problem-solving. “Quantum is also an extremely diverse field that brings together physicists, computer scientists, mathematicians, experimentalists... without this diversity, we wouldn't be making the progress we are currently making now. The late Professor Jonathan P. Dowling once pointed out that, in his group, a bottle of nail polish was a vital part of a quantum optics experiment — used for making a pinhole, and that a man would've never thought of it!”
Her outlet from quantum? Aside from travelling, it’s the creative arts — playing Bach, Rachmaninoff and Chopin piano pieces, oil painting, and creating intricate Venetian-style masks — an interest inspired by research trips throughout Europe prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Juliette Soule, University of Sydney
“I have wanted to become a physicist ever since I was about 11 - I read Brian Greene’s Fabric of the Cosmos and was absolutely enchanted. Ultimately my passion for physics has always been driven by a desire to understand the nature of reality at the most fundamental level.”
University of Sydney PhD Student, Juliette Soule, was born in Cape Town, South Africa and moved to Christchurch, New Zealand when she was three. Juliette completed her undergraduate and honours degree at the University of Auckland and then moved to Sydney to study her PhD with Professor Stephen Bartlett at the Centre of Excellence in Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS), at the University of Sydney School of Physics.
To girls and women considering a career in quantum, Juliette says, “Whilst physics in general is still largely a ‘boys' club,’ this is a changing stereotype, and you can be one of the women who changes it. The scientific community in general, and in particular the quantum community, is aware that it needs to exert effort in order to encourage more women into the field, and as a result there will be many opportunities available to you”.
“Finally, I would say that if you are apprehensive about joining a male-dominated field as a woman, know that the vast majority of people you interact with also believe that there should be more women in quantum, and your colleagues and mentors will do their best to support you in every way that they can if they are doing their jobs!”
Juliette believes that diversity in science and quantum research is important because “Whilst science claims to be objective by its very nature, the research topics and paths are chosen by humans, and inevitably humans are not objective creatures. The people who research in the field of quantum are just that - people.”
“We are the product of our past experiences, our cultures, our beliefs, our biases, and our research inevitably is influenced by that. The more diverse the scientific, and in particular the quantum community, the higher the quality research it will produce, as more diverse perspectives and ideas will exist within the community. There are as many ways to approach problems as there are people, and the more diverse a group of people, the more diverse their approaches will likely be. This inevitably will result in a thriving, exciting, and rich research landscape producing scientific information which benefits everyone, not just a specific race or gender.”
Outside of her PhD studies, Juliette is a passionate long-distance runner, enjoying reading, cooking, spending time with friends and family, and a love of music – playing guitar, piano and violin.
More on Women in Quantum
Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA) is committed to building a diverse quantum workforce and introducing more women and girls to the many opportunities a career in quantum science and technology holds.
SQA will work with partner Universities to announce initiatives in the coming year that attract and develop the careers of female scientists and entrepreneurs in quantum research and innovation.
Thanks to their hard work and pioneering research, the Australian quantum ecosystem has many outstanding women leaders in the field to help inspire the next generation.
Happy International Women’s Day. #WomenLead
For more information on why gender equity in Australian science is important, visit:
- Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador: https://womeninstem.org.au/
- Australian Institute of Physics’ Diversity and Equity Group In Australian Physics (DEGAP): https://aip.org.au/topical-groups/women-in-physics-wip/
- UN Women International Women’s Day: https://unwomen.org.au/get-involved/international-womens-day/international-womens-day-2021-theme/
- Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE): https://www.sciencegenderequity.org.au/
- Australian Academy of Science Women in STEM Decadal Plan and Women in STEM Directory: https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/diversity-and-inclusion/gender-equity