New £50 banknote will celebrate Northern Ireland’s women scientists

8 Mar 2022

Terry Robb and Sandra Wright of Ulster Bank. Image: Ulster Bank

Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s 1967 discovery of pulsars is included on the note, unveiled on International Women’s Day 2022.

Northern Ireland is to get a new banknote celebrating the achievements of women from the region working in science.

Ulster Bank is introducing the £50 banknote on International Women’s Day (today, 8 March). It is expected to come into circulation this summer on 15 June.

Lurgan-born pioneer astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell and her iconic work on the discovery of pulsars in 1967 features on the design. Her central role in this discovery was not recognised at the time and the 1974 Nobel Prize in physics was instead granted to her PhD supervisor.

But Bell Burnell is now recognised as one of the world’s foremost astrophysicists, receiving the Copley Medal last year and the $3m Breakthrough Prize in 2018. She is a trailblazing promoter for women and marginalised people in science and was the first woman to be president of the Institute of Physics.

As well as Bell Burnell, the banknote’s design shows women working in Northern Ireland’s growing life sciences industry. There are also nods to the region’s shipbuilding and aviation sectors, the creative industries, and Northern Ireland’s place as a cybersecurity hub.

Northern Ireland’s ‘millies’ also appear on the banknote. The millies were women who worked at looms in the region’s linen industry. They were seen as unskilled operatives at the time but their contribution to the craft is now celebrated on the note.

On the other side of the note are illustrations of plants and animals native to the region, such as the gorse bush, a cryptic wood butterfly and a pine marten.

Sandra Wright, senior HR manager at Ulster Bank, said that “the note designs are a celebration of the people and places of Northern Ireland” building on the designs of the bank’s £5, £10 and £20 notes.

“But this new note has a particular focus on women and women’s role in life and industry here, including amazing achievements such as Dame Jocelyn’s discovery of pulsars. We are really honoured to release the design today on International Women’s Day,” Wright added.

Terry Robb, head of personal banking in Northern Ireland, emphasised the place banknotes have even as the transition to digital banking continues.

“We have experienced a huge increase in customers moving to digital transactions but banknotes continue to be an important part of the way that many people interact with us. We’re really proud to introduce this latest bold new design, particularly as it celebrates some of the amazing things women from Northern Ireland have achieved.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.