back to article Which scientist should be on the new £50 note? El Reg weighs in – and you should vote, too

This week the Bank of England said it was going to put a famous boffin on a new polymer £50 note, and has decided to ask the public who it should be. There is even an online form where you can put in a nomination – it will be open for the next six weeks. There are only two rules attached: they must be a) a scientist – covering …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ok, so if Ms Tatcher is out about another chemist? I propose Dr Angela D. Kasner.

    (seeing the way the negotiations are going, every bit helps!)

  2. Mattknz1

    Notey McNoteface

    Gets my vote

  3. E_Nigma

    All worthy candidates. I think I would maybe pick Babbage, although Fleming is a close second. Not such popular choices I see...

  4. WibbleMe

    Why not do a circle with all the faces on

  5. NeilHoskins

    James Clerk Maxwell

    Cam't believe he doesn't even make your list. I have absolutely no idea why he always gets forgotten. Even to this day, pretty much the whole of electromagnetic communication depends on his work. Albert Einstein had his photo on his study wall fer chrissakes.

  6. Simon B-52

    Re: James Clerk Maxwell

    Possibly because Mawell's Equations aren't easily written in standard type, whereas "E equals M C squared" is widely known, even if not so widely understood.

    It's a sad irony really, as Maxwell's Equations are succinct and elegantly beautiful, one of the very few bits of maths I've ever found genuinely exciting.

  7. katrinab Silver badge

    Maggie Thatcher does meet the qualification requirements

    o - British

    o - A scientist who invented soft scoop ice cream

    o - Dead

    However, she doesn't get my vote. It goes to Ada Lovelace.

  8. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Re: Maggie Thatcher does meet the qualification requirements

    The soft-scoop story is sadly not true. Soft-scoop was invented in the late 1930s in the United States. The confusion is that Thatcher worked for Lyons between 1949 and 1951 on emulsifiers when Lyons had obtained the Mr Softee franchise.

    She did do a science degree at Cambridge and specialised in X-ray crystallography, so she had a formidable qualification. But there is no evidence she invented anything or proposed a new theory.

    Apparently Thatcher applied for a place at ICI after graduation, but was rejected for being "headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated."

  9. camlc

    Re: Maggie Thatcher does meet the qualification requirements

    She did her science (Chemistry, to be accurate) degree at Oxford. Somerville College. She did specialise in X Ray crystallography, and her supervisor was Dorothy Hodgkin. Who does deserve to be nominated.

  10. Marco van de Voort

    Fleming, no contest.

    Penicillin saved so many lives. Anybody had an appendix taken out, or other now routines surgery? Was quite a risky procedure before antibiotics.

    I like my computers and software, but in the end I'm still a bag of bones.

  11. Fred Daggy

    Brian May

    Brian May - Get two for the price of one!

  12. Jedit
    Black Helicopters

    Lise Meitner

    Funny that this name should come up in conversation just now; last week I was in Germany, and my hotel was on Lise-Meitner Strasse. Is the person who discovered the frequency of coincidences dead? Because if so, they'd be my candidate to go on the note.

  13. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Re: Lise Meitner

    Is the person who discovered the frequency of coincidences dead? Because if so, they'd be my candidate to go on the note.

    Your candidate might be John Littlewood (1885-1977). See Littlewood's Law.

    One of the mighty Trinity of ultra-pure mathematicians of around a century ago, with Hardy and Ramanujan.

  14. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Re: Your candidate might be John Littlewood (1885-1977)

    He would have been a good advert for Littlewoods Pools.

  15. Jedit

    Littlewood's Law

    Thanks Nick, that's exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. Although Littlewood was of course mistaken; we all know Pratchett's Law states that million to one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

  16. BoldMan

    No James Clarke Maxwell?

    Much more important than any of these computery boffins!

  17. Stevie Silver badge

    No James Clarke Maxwell?

    Gak Eisenberg for the win.

  18. Dave White

    Why not all of them?

    Is there a practical reason why they can't print several notes for the most prominent scientists? Why not have one with Turing, one with Hawking, one with Lovelace etc?

  19. Spazturtle Silver badge

    Bank notes have a person and a location/building on them. I still think that having Margret Thatcher and a coal mine would be fitting for the £50.

  20. JimmyPage Silver badge

    I think it's time for a woman ...

    and I notice no one (including El Reg itself) appear to have thought of Mary Anning - 1799-1842 who predates Ada Lovelace (my choice) and by the very fact is unknown to commentards is deserving of a profile boost.

  21. Paul Cooper

    Re: I think it's time for a woman ...

    I'm a geologist and have to say that calling Mary Anning a scientist is a bit of a stretch. She was a gifted fossil collector who happened to have the good fortune to live next to a good fossil locality where she carried on the family business (her father also collected fossils for sale). I'm not denigrating fossil collection - it is much harder than people think, and requires a good eye; I know this as I'm no good at it! But palaeontology only starts with fossil collection, which is pretty much where Mary Anning stopped. I'd say that she bears about the same relationship to palaeontology as the lab technicians did to Rosalind Franklin. If Mary Anning hadn't been female and hence noteworthy, I doubt we'd know she'd existed.

  22. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    Re: I think it's time for a woman ...

    I'm not a geologist, but if you'll accept Extra History as a source (, Mary Anning disputed the claims of established scientists and was proved right. She went beyond collecting, carefully studying her finds, and was noteworthy for being good at it.

  23. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Re: Mary Anning

    ... Which is why my choice was Ada Lovelace. I just mentioned Mary Anning to show there is a wider choice than some thing.

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. ICPurvis47

    My personal recommendation.

    I would like to put forward Professor Hugh Davson. In the post war period he did ground breaking work on the physiology of the brain, ophthalmic research (leading to the setting up of several Corneal Banks), and other important medical work regarding the Blood/Brain Barrier. Although not IT related, and therefor probably not high on any list produced here, I knew the man and respect him. Most of his work was conducted at the Institute of Ophthalmology on Judd Street, University College on Gower Street, University of Louisville on South Seventh Street, and California Institute of Technology on Wilshire Boulevard.

  26. Stoke the atom furnaces

    Absolute Zero

    William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, would get my vote.

    An oversight that he did not make The Register's top 10 list.

  27. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    two more to the list

    Two more from left field

    John Stewart Bell


    Beatrix Potter (Yes really)

  28. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Re: two more to the list

    "Beatrix Potter (Yes really)"

    Indeed. Thanks for the reminder.

  29. Nigel Sedgwick

    First Algorithm?!

    The Register article states, WRT Ada Lovelace: "We also have her notes for Babbage's machine that represent the first algorithm every produced."

    I refute this thus: Euclid, c. 300BC; also Eratosthenes, c. 200BC.

    That's merely reference to a refutation or two - not a claim for first algorithm.

    For the avoidance of doubt, IMHO Ada Lovelace is certainly worthy of such recognition.

    Best regards

  30. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Re: First Algorithm?!

    @ Nigel Sedgwick

    Your namesake Adam would also be a good choice:

  31. Andrew Alan McKenzie

    John Snow

    My vote is for John Snow - an English physician and a leader in the adoption of anaesthesia and medical hygiene. He is considered one of the fathers of modern epidemiology, in part because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854. If it wasn't for that era of medicine the probability is that we would be dead, not voting!

    And a positive side effect - the unscientific will think 'Jon Snow, cool - game of thrones' and vote for my suggestion.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: John Snow

    He also done a good job reading the news

  33. Keith Oborn

    Good God. Was this written by a smart ten year old?

    Riddled with inaccuracies, eg:

    Rosalind Franklin "Because she discovered DNA". No. She was instrumental in working out the *structure* of DNA. None of the four main protagonists in this "discovered" it.

    Terrible copy editing.

    El Reg: are you writing intelligent news or a breathless kiddie's comic?

  34. SonofRojBlake

    James. Clerk. Maxwell.

    James Clerk Maxwell is the most important scientist nobody has ever heard of. He laid the foundations for modern physics. And he's not even in your top ten. He's not been on a banknote before, not had a blockbuster movie made about him and not been in Star Trek.

    In terms of contribution vs. recognition, I can't think of anyone else whose ratio is so skewed.

  35. Mage Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Re: James. Clerk. Maxwell.

    Einstein credited Maxwell. Maxwell was a hairsbreadth from relativity theory.

    real father of Radio (though Hertz important). Marconi didn't claim to be a scientist, but an entrepreneur. His main jump was realising that radio range needed and aerial (wire) and an earth(ed connection) rather than a small loop. Later when VHF was possible, loops were used on transmitters. A multiturn loop does work for receive.

    Also Maxwell realised how colour photography could be done (though a panchromatic film was some time in the future).

    Many other things too.

  36. Simon B-52

    R V Jones

    R V Jones not even mentioned? We owe him every bit as much as we owe Turing and Flowers, a great deal indeed.

    Perhaps an example of the HollyWeird stereotype of "Scientist" being necessarily equivalent to "Sufferer", which I've always suspected as being used to assuage the jealousy of the ordinarily thick.......

  37. Richard Parkin

    Re: R V Jones

    Yes but he wasn’t shafted by the establishment like the others. Since WW2 is ruling our lives (brexitmania) perhaps a larger group of all the scientists who were important in “winning the war”. Actually in these days when it’s popular to denigrate the Poles, my favourite for £50 note portrait would be the Polish pilots who won the Battle of Britain (exaggeration to make the point).

  38. Andi McDonald

    What about Margaret Thatcher, she was a Chemist and it would really upset the delicate snowflakes if she won

  39. Spanners Silver badge

    @Andi McDonald

    If you want to upset people who deserve it, Edward Jenner...

  40. Spanners Silver badge

    How about?

    Edward Jenner?

    In the sad event someone hasn't heard of him Read this

    He has probably saved more people from nasty illnesses and early death than any other scientists in history, if not all of them!

  41. LesC

    Brit Boffins

    What about Bernard Lovell (Jodrell Bank) and perhaps, more importantly, El Reg's very own Lester Haines (PARIS, LOHAN, spam wusubi, etc, etc)

    Mines is the one with the chlorine trifluoride in the pocket :)

  42. Mage Silver badge

    Re: chlorine trifluoride

    You USED to have a pocket. There is a hole in the concrete floor and the asbestos ceiling below is on fire.

  43. LesC

    Re: chlorine trifluoride

    Excellent, sir indeed the large drum of the stuff that split in the 1950's must have been quite a sight.... Clark's excellent 'Ignition' is of course the source :)

    John Conway must get an honourable mention: Life and the concept of the (spreadsheet) cell: you can still get a hold of Life today in these days of AI and Kuberdocker :/ Unfortunately Conway is still alive but us pre AgileCloudAmazon old schoolers will have run Life amongst our S-50, OSWRCH and Data General Nova code (Wild Hare) :)

    (Edit) Baird's ideas are still with us with slow scan mechanical TV was never going to work but the electronic equivalent works just fine with the amateurs.

  44. Mage Silver badge

    Re: electronic equivalent works just fine with the amateurs

    Actually that's derived from Fax, First experimental Fax on wire was in 1851. SSTV is to Fax, what RTTY is to Telex/Teleprinters (from 1928, but also Victorian experimenters). Radio Fax was also in 1930s, at same time as Baird, and transmitted in the USA after radio program close down. Add on printers for existing ordinary radios were sold in USA. The Mechanical TV was also done in USA too as a novelty after normal progam close down, but the radio fax was more practical.

    SSTV doesn't do moving images, it's basically Fax.

  45. RobDog

    Notable by their absence

    John Harrison - as a maritime nation it’s shameful that he hasn’t had a mention as the man who solved the longitudinal navigation problem.

    And where is Isambard Kingdom Brunel ferchrissakes?

  46. Stoke the atom furnaces

    Maurice Wilkes

    Maurice Wilkes, inventor of cache memory, microcode and the subroutine, would be a worthy choice.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about TBL

    He invented the Internet?

  48. Allonymous Coward

    Re: What about TBL

    I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and say I see what you did there.

  49. Long John Silver

    Charles Babbage - gentleman innovator

    Charles Babbage appeals because he typifies the 19th century gentleman savant. Rayleigh is another example.

    Babbage's distaste for plebeians and their culture shows powers of discrimination (a virtue) sadly nowadays lacking among the supposedly educated.

    Maybe 'scientist' is misnomer for Babbage and some others on the list (e.g. John Logie Baird). However it fits his era because 'science' and 'scientist' were terms used differently from now. At one time theology was 'the queen of sciences'. The mantle passed to mathematics but neither is science in the sense explained below.

    Followers of Popper would exclude from 'science' activities not entailing devising testable theories to which may be applied the inverse logic of falsification. General usage of the term these days is somewhat lax but not as much as in pre-Popper times.

    What the named persons on the list have in common is brilliant insight which later proved fundamental to present day technology. For instance the chain of reasoning/action leading from Babbage to present day computers is shorter than that leading from the scientist Becquerel to nuclear power. Put another way, Babbage had a realisable goal in mind whereas Becquerel was curiosity driven. Each motivation is of tremendous value in its own way.

  50. h4rm0ny Silver badge

    Write In Option:

    Charles Babbage AND Ada Lovelace.


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