Quickhit: Professor Michelle Simmons, NSW Scientist of the Year

Professor Michelle Simmons has been announced as the NSW Scientist of the Year. Professor Simmons is the Director of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at UNSW. You can find out a bit more about her here.

From the article:

The Sydney physicist is pioneering the development of quantum computers – super-fast, super-powerful devices that will use the weird quantum properties of atoms to carry out calculations billions of times faster than today’s computers.

Her team at the University of NSW has already built the world’s smallest transistor, by carefully placing seven atoms of phosphorus into a single crystal of silicon.

Congratulations, Professor Simmons!

*Thumbnail image: “Science” at xkcd.com, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.5 Licence.



Categories: Science, technology

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3 replies

  1. Maybe slightly OT, but what’s the deal with snippets like this:

    Professor Simmons, who has three children under eight, said quantum computing was not an easy science, and juggling a family and scientific career was also not easy, but she was passionate about doing both.

    …? Do reports on male scientists usually include this kind of info? This isn’t a rhetorical question — it struck me as odd, but it’s something I’ve not really noticed until now.

  2. Sorry, I’ve spent too much time with markdown instead of HTML. That “> …” was meant to be a block quote.

  3. (I fixed the bq for you)
    Not OT at all – I’m happy for this thread to include discussion of anything to do with Professor Simmons receiving the award or the reporting of it.
    Anyway, I noticed that, too, and I’m in two minds about it. Here are some of my thoughts.
    * I agree that it is highly unlikely that a paragraph like that would have been included about a man, especially not so early on.
    * BUT let’s face it, it is much easier – expected, even – for a man to have a career AND a family than it is for a woman to do so, because of social expectations about “motherhood” vs “fatherhood” vs “parenthood”, and because the lived reality of many het couples with kids means the mother ends up doing the lion’s share of the kid-related work.
    * SO the fact that she has three kids under 8 and still kicks so much arse she’s named NSW Scientist of the Year arguably makes an impressive achievement even more impressive. So perhaps it is relevant.
    * It’s a report of something she said, and not just “I have three kids” but “it’s not easy but I’m passionate about it”, so maybe she made a point of saying something about having three kids under eight because of the difficulties she has faced (and doubtless seen other women face, compared to the fewer difficulties she’s doubtless seen men face). If she made a point of saying it, it is absolutely a good thing that it was included in the article.
    (Of course, it could have been a response to a question from the journo, but it is included in the UNSW article as well, which suggests it might be something she said in her acceptance speech.)
    (I do get annoyed when the fact of children is thrown into a story about a woman where it is a completely irrelevant fact and would not be thrown in about a man. I just think that there seems to have been SOME thought about the mention of kids in this article – or, at least, some reason for it other than the journo thinking “she’s a woman so of course we have to mention her kids”.)
    * Also, and this may be a reason she made a point of saying something about her kids (if she did make a point of it), I think it is a good thing, a VERY good thing, for people of all genders, and whether or not they have kids, to be seeing people saying “I kick arse at my career, and I’m also engaged in this other thing that is difficult and takes up a huge amount of time and which is very important in my life, namely, raising kids”. I think it’s even better when they say “and the whole thing is bloody difficult to manage”. Because the more that happens, the more it will be acceptable for women (and everyone else) to say “I want to kick arse at my career AND I want to have kids AND I NEED SOME SUPPORT FOR THAT!”
    So, with all that, I think I come down on the “I’m ok with the fact that it’s mentioned in the article in these particular circumstances” side.
    The fact that it would not be said about a man doesn’t matter. That might just mean we should be saying that sort of thing about men more often.

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