Who would you put on the £50 Note?

The Bank of England is undertaking an exercise to ask people to nominate a scientist to go on the


Anyone can vote and there is no shortlist (though the vote is advisory, not binding – no Science McScienceface here!). The main criteria are that they must be a scientist, must be dead and must have contributed to science in the UK.

I’ve nominated Stephen Hawking. He was a brilliant scientist, a gifted communicator and an inspiration to many, including myself. He has huge name recognition (and visual recognition) and the way he triumphed over tremendous adversity makes him a fantastic symbol even for those who might not be passionate about science.

Though I think Hawking is the best choice, there are many other good choices. If you’re having trouble thinking of options, here are some suggestions below, listed in descending order of priority.

A note on selection order

In devising the list below, the primary consideration was scientific brilliance and contribution. I also considered relevance to today of their contributions and name recognition, as it’s better to celebrate someone that many people will have heard of. Finally, I took a strict definition of scientist and excluded engineers (Brunel, Stevenson, etc) and also excluded people who’d been on a note recently (notable Darwin and Faraday).

My list

1. Stephen Hawking – for the reasons set out above.

2. Alan Turing – brilliant computer scientist; not only played a leading role in helping to win World War 2, his theoretical contributions (Universal Turing Machine, Turing Test) remain hugely relevant concepts in computer science today.

3. Sir Isaac Newton – inventor of calculus, discoverer of gravity, huge contributions to optics. Almost unquestionably Britain’s most significant scientist of all time (arguably challenged by Darwin). Has been on the £1 note (sic) but that was a long time ago.

4. Dorothy Hodgkin – Nobel Laureate, pioneer of X-ray crystallography, one of the most important tools of modern biochemistry. Discovered the structure of penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin, the first and last of which in particular continue to save the lives of millions today.

5. James Clerk Maxwell – Discoverer of the electromagnetic spectrum. Maxwell’s equations are the final word of pre-quantum physics and continue to be widely used today.

6. Mary Anning – Pioneering paleontologist who discovered the first icthyosaur, plesiosaur and a host of other marine mammals.

7. Edward Jenner – Inventor of vaccination (in particular the smallpox vaccine). Vaccination is one of the most important medical advances we’ve made.

8. Mary Leakey – Palaeontologist who made landmark discoveries in human evolution, always a topic of enduring interest.

9. J. J. Thompson – Discoverer of the electron, notably celebrated in a toast, “To the electron, may it always remain as useless as it is today.”

10. Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (appearing together) – I’m not so keen on these two being in the top ten but they’ve undoubtedly captured some of the public’s imagination. Developed the first mechanical computer and worked out how it might be programmed (impressive even though it didn’t really work).

Who will you nominate?