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Who will be on the UK's new 50 pound note? We are hoping it's a woman scientist

Rekha Balakrishnan
5th Nov 2018
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The British public has been invited to offer suggestions on the Bank of England's website on which scientist they think should grace UK's new 50 pound note. Many think it's time for a woman scientist to be featured.

Who will be on the new UK 50 pound note? Most Britons are hoping a woman makes it on the banknote after the Bank of England asked the public to nominate scientists.

In addition to the Queen, the new banknote will include the portrait of an eminent late scientist from the fields of biology, astronomy, and medical research.

The Bank has invited the public to offer suggestions on its website over the next six weeks.

These nominations can include anyone who has worked in any field of science including astronomy, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, medical research, physics, technology and zoology, the Bank said.

Last month, the British government had announced that the new 50 pound note would also be a polymer design, which is more durable and harder to counterfeit than paper money.

Celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking is one of the frontrunners to be featured on the new pound note. However, many Britons feel that it's time for a woman to feature on the note, especially those scientists who faced discrimination and still made it to the top of their fields. Names suggested include 19th century Mathematician Ada Lovelace, Dorothy Hodgkin, the only British woman to have woman a Nobel in Chemistry, and Rosalind Franklin who laid the foundation for the discovery of the structure of DNA.

Here's why one of these women should definitely be on Britain's new 50 pound note.

Ada Lovelace

50 pound note

Ada Lovelace was born to Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke in London in 1815. After being abandoned by her father, she was raised by her mother who insisted on a high-quality education, especially in mathematics and science, apart from music and French with the help of private tutors. When she was 17, her life took a turn as she met Charles Babbage, who later came to be known as the 'father of the computer'. In 1842, she chanced upon a paper, Sketch of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, by engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea. The paper, written in French, intrigued her enough to start her own research in the field. In her paper, she included the world's first published computer program or algorithm, and is now known as the world's first computer programmer. By breaking new ground in computing, Ada Lovelace laid the foundation for what would, in the future, lead to a computer revolution.

Dorothy Hodgkin

Dorothy Hodgkin was a British chemist credited with a number of famous and path-breaking discoveries. Born in 1910 in Cairo, she was accepted to study chemistry at Somerville College, where she became the first student of Herbert Powell in the newly-acquired X-ray laboratory.

While working on her PhD under the supervision of John Desmond Bernal, she demonstrated, for the first time ever, that a protein had a regular molecular structure. She made a number of discoveries, including that of the atomic structure of penicillin in 1945. In 1954, she published the structure of vitamin B12, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964. Dorothy Hodgkin was also well-known for her support to various humanitarian causes.

 

Rosalind Franklin

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology - From the personal collection of Jenifer Glynn.

This British scientist certainly needs no introduction. Her scientific life and work have been surrounded by controversy, with her not winning the Nobel Prize she rightly deserved. Born in London in 1920, Franklin attended one of the few girls' schools in the city and fought her father to get enrolled at Newnham College, Cambridge, from where she graduated in 1941.

She earned her doctorate in Physical Chemistry from Cambridge University in 1945.

In 1951, Rosaline Franklin joined John Randall's laboratory at King's College, London, as a research associate. Here she met Maurice Wilkins and both led separate projects on DNA. Between 1951 and 1953, she had gained a lot of ground in her research and came very close to solving the DNA structure. However, James Watson and Maurice Crick beat her to it by publishing it. Her work came as a supporting article in the journal.

James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins went on to receive a Nobel Prize for the double-helix model of DNA in 1962, four years after Franklin's death at age 37 from ovarian cancer.

 

 

The Bank of England's decision to feature only a scientist on the note rules out a recent campaign to honour Noor Inayat Khan, who was a spy for Britain in World War II and was award the George Cross posthumously. If selected, she would have been the first woman from an "ethnic minority" to be featured on a pound note.

But whoever the contenders are, these women are certainly in the reckoning for going where no women, dared to, before them.

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