Stephen Hawking

In November last year the Bank of England announced that the new £50 would feature the face of a prominent British scientist. According to SkyBet, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking remains the favourite at 4/7, though close behind are a selection of particularly strong candidates.

Father of modern computer science Alan Turing is second favourite at 5/2, followed by Ada Lovelace, a pioneer in the same field, at 15/2. Then come the British chemists Dorothy Hodgkin and Rosalind Franklin at 10/1 and 12/1 respectively. Mary Seacole, renowned for her medical work during the Crimean War, is at 14/1.

Diversity Issues

Bank of England governor Mark Carney said that Britain had, “a wealth of individuals whose work has shaped how we think about the world,” and that the country’s banknotes were, “an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of UK society and highlight the contributions of its greatest citizens.

The public were asked to nominate suitable candidates from the sciences to create a long-list of options. From these a committee will create a shortlist with the eventual choice being made by Mr Carney and announced this summer.

Carney’s mention of diversity is particularly notable and backed up by the Bank of England website which states that the process will “take account of who we’ve chosen in the past, because we want to make sure we feature a wide diversity of people and fields on our notes.

Such selection criteria is reflected in the odds – the top six candidates have attributes rarely honoured on British banknotes. There are four women among the top 6 favourites, one of whom, Mary Seacole, was black. Though one might expect the Bank of England to take the opportunity to choose one of these candidates, the male options would also allow for a greater diversity of representation: Hawking famously struggled with motor neurone disease while Alan Turing was gay and persecuted by British authorities during his lifetime.