In Depth

Who will be on the new £50 note?

Margaret Thatcher is surprise addition to longlist of scientist candidates

Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher is in the running to be the next face of the new £50 note, after making in onto the Bank of England’s newly published list of possible candidates.

The Iron Lady was not expected to considered for the honour, which has been limited to people who have contributed to the field of science. 

However, a Bank spokesperson explained: “Margaret Thatcher is eligible to be on the note because she was a scientist - she was a chemist before she became prime minister, and she actually helped invent the soft-scoop ice cream.”

Thatcher studied chemistry at Oxford University and worked as a food research chemist for London-based food manufacturer J. Lyons & Co before entering the world of politics, adds The Daily Telegraph .

Other scientists who made the 800-strong list include astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, medic-turned-runner Roger Bannister, penicillin pioneer Alexander Fleming and telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

The Bank received a total of 174,112 nominations from the public, 114,000 of which met the criteria.

Hawking is the bookies’ favourite to claim the ultimate honour, with odds of 7/4, followed by chemist Dorothy Hodgkin, at 4/1, says the BBC.

Hodgkin was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1964 for her work in chemistry, using crystallography to find out the three-dimensional shapes of penicillin and vitamin B12.

Her work with penicillin is still important for the development of antibiotics today, and her 1969 discovery of the shape of the insulin molecule impacted the treatment of diabetes.

“Her life was a shining example to so many, so it would be entirely appropriate for us to honour her great scientific achievements... by putting her image on our new £50 notes,” writes Elspeth Garman, a professor of molecular biophysics at the University of Oxford, in an article on The Conversation.

The winner will be announced next summer, although the new polymer note will not go into circulation until 2020 at the earliest.

Since the Queen is the only living person who can be featured on a Bank of England note, the scientist must be deceased.

The Bank's governor, Mark Carney, will have the final say on who is selected, eliminating the risk of embarrassments like the “Boaty McBoatface” debacle of 2016, when the National Environment Research Council came to regret asking the public to name its £200m research vessel.

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