The new £50 note

It was announced today that the new polymer £50 note will celebrate the UK’s achievements in science, and will feature a prominent British scientist. Nominations from the public are invited.

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, said, “I am delighted that the new £50 will celebrate the UK’s contribution to science. There is a wealth of individuals whose work has shaped how we think about the world and who continue to inspire people today. Our banknotes are an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of UK society and highlight the contributions of its greatest citizens. My colleagues and I look forward to hearing from the public as they think science and put forward their nominations.”

This announcement provides Metric Views with an opportunity to recall that no fewer than six British scientists have been honoured by having SI units named after them, and that three of these have also previously featured on English bank notes.

From 1978 to 1988, the £1 note featured Sir Isaac Newton, English mathematician and physicist (1642-1727). The newton (N) is the SI coherent derived unit of force.

From 1991 to 2001, the £20 note featured Michael Faraday, English chemist and physicist (1791-1867). The farad (F) is the SI coherent derived unit of capacitance.

Since 2011, the current £50 note has featured James Watt, Scottish scientist and engineer (1736-1819). The watt (W) is the SI coherent derived unit of power.

Perhaps one of the other three British scientists will feature on the new £50 note:

Louis Harold Gray, English physicist (1905-1965). The gray (Gy) is the SI coherent derived unit of absorbed dose of ionising radiation.

James Prescott Joule, English physicist, mathematician and brewer (1818-1889). The joule (J) is the SI coherent derived unit of energy.

Lord Kelvin (William Thomson), Scottish scientist (1824-1907). The kelvin (K) is the unit of absolute temperature and is one of the seven SI base units.

Nominations can be made online at the following link:

Nominations close on 14 December 2018.

12 thoughts on “The new £50 note”

  1. Yes, I was thinking of nominating James Prescott Joule, very much under rated.


  2. There does not seem to be any way of knowing how many times someone has nominated. I cannot see that being fair and honest.
    Anyway, its there: – James Prescott Joule
    A very under rated and under represented English physicist.
    Also a brewer of good English beer, and from Salford the heart of industrial Britain.
    He actually laid down the laws of thermodynamics that are so much part of human evolution.


  3. There isn’t a person with the surname ‘Calorie’ so I reckon it’ll be a jolly good idea if we all nominate James Prescott Joule. It will certainly help in promoting the joule as the, and only, unit of energy.


  4. As far as I am aware, Lord Kelvin, rather than James Joule laid down the laws of thermodynamics. Joule’s contribution was connected with the conservation of energy when it was transferred from one form to another – initially Joule considered the conversion from mechanical to thermal energy. The conservation of energy is one of the basic principles of physics and engineering.


  5. I nominated all three of the SI-famed scientists who have not yet appeared on the note – there was nothing to stop me doing so, though I obviously suggested they choose ‘one of these three’. As BrianAC points out, there doesn’t seem to be anything preventing anyone from making multiple nominations, sadly. I wonder how seriously the Bank of England means this survey to be taken.


  6. James Clerk Maxwell probably contributed as much to putting the metric system (and hence SI) on a sound theoretical basis by introducing the concept of a coherent system of units. Maxwell is also well known for his theoretical work on electromagnetism and a host of other topics. His name cannot be used for an SI unit as it was already used for the cgs unit of magnetic flux. I would like to see him, Joule and Lord Kelvin on the £50 banbk note – a full justification could be written about these three bearded gentlemen without even mentioning metrication.


  7. I doubt that the BMWA will nominate Daniel Fahrenheit – he was not British! British scientists who were involved with developing the imperial system of units include James Thompson, brother of William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) who introduced the poundal and William Rankine who introduced a Fahrenheit equivalent of the Kelvin temperature scale.

    The only other Briton of note who can be credited with developing a unit of measurement used in the Imperial system is Edmund Gunter who developed the chain in about 1620 which he subdivided into 100 links. This development pre-dated Wilkins’ proposed system by 48 years. The Gunter chain(which was one tenth of a furlong) was widely used in surveying and, being divided decimally, had many of the advantages of the metric system (ever tried to do trigonometry using yards, feet and inches?).


  8. Indeed, and if we are looking for an overlooked Brit whose work could be linked to the world of metrology, and which has withstood the test of time and even gained almost universal international acclamation, we need look no further for a candidate for the fifty-pound-note mugshot than the said Edmund Gunter. The nautical mile, which is the archetypal international unit for air and marine navigation, and which has survived – more or less as originally envisaged – for centuries, and which even the SI’s quangos have condescended to include it in their “brochure”, is a result of the work Gunter did back in the very early 1600s.


  9. The contribution of Edmund Gunter to the promotion of decimal measurements on land is covered in a post earlier this year on Metric Views:

    Decimal nautical measurements have been used by the Royal Navy for many centuries, in particular: 100 fathoms = 1 cable, 10 cables = 1 nautical mile (or 6000 feet). This is conveniently close to the distance corresponding to one minute of latitude. The international nautical mile is 1852 m or around 6076 feet. Gunter’s influence on this system was news to me but could make him be a worthy candidate for the £50 note.


  10. Don’t forget too that this vote is for a Bank of England (and Wales) note (and not Scottish or Irish notes), and that Lord Kelvin, because of his Scottish ties, has already appeared on a Scottish twenty-pound note.


  11. Today (26 November 2018), the Bank of England released a list of scientists who have been nominated to appear of the £50 note. The BBC report is at

    Leading contenders are Steven Hawking, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turning, Rosalind Franklin, ALexander Flemming and Margaret Thatcher but no mention has been made of those scientists associated with SI. Hawking’s nomination could run into trouble as he has not been dead for more than 20 years and although Thatcher did work as a scientist for a few years, her contributions to science were not eough to warrant her being well-known as a scientist.


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