If you are to Google ‘British Scientists,’ you will find that five out of the first six suggestions are male. When we think of prominent British scientists, the first names that will often come to mind are those of Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Each of these men has made significant contributions to society and each have been, and continue to be, extensively celebrated for their achievements. So why is it that females in the same field are not as easily recognised and remembered? Not only do names such as Ada Lovelace or Dorothy Hodgkin not come to mind, but a significant number of people may have never even heard them before. Science can often be unfairly portrayed as a male subject and, as a result, a severe inequality exists, often rendering female scientists forgotten. However, on 1 November, Bank of England governor Mark Carney made an announcement that may provide us with an opportunity to make a change.
The new £50 note, to be released within the next five years, will feature a British scientist and the public has a say as to who this will be. The Bank of England is asking for nominations from the public, of British scientists who have contributed to the field of science and shaped thought, innovation, leadership or values in the UK. They must be dead and they must be real, but most importantly, they must have inspired people rather than divided them. Over the next month, the public will send in nominations of figures who they think fit these criteria before a shortlist is drawn up by a committee who will ultimately decide who the note will portray.
The frontrunners of the nominations so far include Professor Stephen Hawking – one of the most renowned scientists of the twenty-first century, known for his groundbreaking work in theoretical physics, and an undoubtedly popular candidate. Other options include Alan Turing and Fred Sanger. There are also some strong female contenders, notably Ada Lovelace, English mathematician and writer, often considered to be the ‘grandmother of computing,’ and credited with publishing the world’s first computer program. Dorthy Hodgkin, Rosalind Franklin and Mary Anning are also among those suggested.
Each of these possible candidates is an imperative figure in British society, each having shaped the world of science irrevocably. However, one of the biggest concerns regarding this decision is whether it should be a male or female scientist displayed on the note. Of the four bank notes currently in circulation in Britain, only one portrays a female (Jane Austen on the £10 note), suggesting that perhaps the presence of a woman on the note could contribute to equalising gender representation in society. However, it could also be argued that gender should not be considered in this decision – the chosen figure should be selected on the basis of their achievements in the scientific field and nothing else.
Nominations for the figure portrayed on the £50 note will close on 14 December, giving the public just several weeks to decide who they want to see on the £50 note. My support will be lying with a female scientist; I see this as an opportunity to remember the women whose invaluable contributions to science were forgotten by their own generation as a result of their sex. For so long, women have been made invisible in countless spheres of society and the presence of an influential woman on the British £50 note could aid us in moving away from this inequality and finally give female scientists the recognition they deserve.
Image: John Rabon via www.anglotopia.net