Public to decide next historical figure on £50 note

The £50 note is getting a face-lift, and also a face swap – apparently that’s not just a Snapchat thing. The classic paper £50 is going the way of its siblings, the £5 and £10 notes, and will soon be printed in a polymer. The change from paper to plastic brings with it the chance to replace Matthew Boulten and James Watt from the back design, and the Bank of England is looking to do just that.

The initiative is to let the public nominate a citizen who has contributed to science for the back of the new note. There are a few ground rules, mind. The scientist must be British; they must be deceased (only the Queen is the exception to this rule); they have to have inspired people rather than divided them; and they need to have been real, so Sherlock Holmes is out. The individual can be either male or female, meaning that for the first time in history a woman could be present on the reverse side of the £50 note.

The vote isn’t binding, meaning that the Bank of England needn’t fall subject to another Boaty McBoatface situation if the British public decides to subvert the formula.

The current individuals featuring on the reverse side are Matthew Boulten and James Watt, who pioneered steam engines that were used across the globe. As well as the success of steam engines, the metric unit of power known as the ‘watt’ is named after James Watt.

There are several potential candidates to go on the reverse side of the £50 note. On the Daily Express website, 44% of people selected Stephen Hawking over Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. The Guardian and numerous other newspapers believe that Stephen Hawking is a potential favourite male candidate.

President of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan, suggests Dorothy Hodgkin as a personal choice, noting that she’s the only female Britain to have won the Nobel prize. Hodgkin worked on determining the three-dimensional structures of molecules, notably confirming the structure of penicillin, vitamin B12 and later on insulin.

With the selection of a contributor to science comes the ruling out of the Noor Inayat Khan, who was a British spy in occupied France during the second world war. As well as several political figures showing support for this motion, a petition on change.org has gained 17,000 signatures for her to be considered for the spot on the note. Noor Khan would have been the only ethnic minority to feature on a Bank of England bank note.

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, stated he’s “delighted that the new £50 will celebrate the UK’s contribution to science.” If you too would like to celebrate the UK’s contribution to science, you have until the 14 December 2018 to make your own nomination. Carney will make the final decision, with the winning figure and concept design to be announced in 2019.

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