IN AN age when increasing female participation in the sciences remains a challenge, the achievements of Mary Somerville almost 200 years ago seem all the more significant.
The 19th century science writer and polymath, whose legacy has been unfairly overshadowed by her male contemporaries, is in the running to become the new face of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s £10 note.
Somerville, who died in 1872, was the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society (jointly with the German Caroline Herschel). She is joined on the shortlist by physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) and engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1843).
Born in Jedburgh in 1780, Somerville received little in the way of formal schooling but went on to write books on subjects including astronomy, physics and meteorology.
Her name was among 128 nominees received by the bank when it began its search for the face of its new polymer banknote.
Commenting on the nominees, the bank’s chief marketing officer, David Wheldon, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to engage the public in this process. We received many high quality nominations.
“The strength of our shortlist is indicative of the significant contribution that Scotland has made to the field of science and innovation. I would be very proud for any of these nominees to appear on our new £10 note.”
He added: “Anyone who wants to have their say should visit our Facebook page and cast a vote. I look forward to finding out which of these great figures is chosen”
Also in the running is Maxwell, the Edinburgh-born physicist considered a hero by figures such as Albert Einstein.
He is joined by Telford, the civil engineer who helped build more than 1,000 miles of roads in his lifetime and is famous for his canal and bridge projects.
The Royal Bank of Scotland has been issuing banknotes since 1727 and has an average of £1.5 billion worth of notes in circulation on any single day.
Figures to have appeared on commemorative notes include author Robert Louis Stevenson, inventor Alexander Graham Bell and the golfer Jack Nicklaus.
The new banknote, which is 15 per cent smaller than those in circulation, will be issued in the latter part of next year.
The final decision on whose image will be chosen will be made following a public vote running from tomorrow until next Sunday. Voting takes place at www.facebook.com/royalbankofscotland