New £50 note to feature British scientist

The Bank of England has announced that the face of the new £50 note will be a British scientist; the general public will be able to cast their votes on current nominees over the next six weeks. The Bank has said that the scientist could be from a wide range of fields.

The current £50 note has portraits of the business partners Matthew Boulton and James Watt, who were responsible for the design and manufacture of English steam engines in the latter half of the 18th century. This machinery played a major role in the Industrial Revolution, allowing the mechanisation of factories and mills. Watt was an inventor, mechanical engineer and chemist who, with the financial aid of Boulton, was able to commercialise his invention: the Watt steam engine.

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, made the announcement that a new portrait would be selected. A panel of four experts in the field will make a shortlist of candidates, and Carney will make the final decision. The panel is made up of: Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a space scientist and educator; Emily Grossman, a biologist; Simon Schaffer, a professor of history and philosophy of science; and Simon Singh, a particle physicist.

One rule that the Bank of England follows is that apart from the Queen, all individuals featuring on banknotes must be dead. This rule immediately eliminates some popular suggestions, such as England football player Harry Maguire riding on a unicorn; a choice which gained thousands of signatures in an online petition.

One popular potential candidate is Professor Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge, who was world-renowned for his research in cosmology. Rosalind Franklin is another whom people believe deserves the honour. Her X-Ray crystallography work contributed to the discovery of the DNA double helix for which her colleagues James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Unfortunately, her contributions were only widely recognised after her death.

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Freya Hartshorn

May 2021
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