This curious note on currency notes is inspired by the talks of my favorite astronomer Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose lectures fill my iPod and hard-disk and backup hard-disk.
The Prime Ministers of India and,
The Governor, Reserve Bank of India.
This note is inspired by the public lectures of astronomer Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Yesterday, the 20th of July, on the one hand I was celebrating the greatest scientific achievement of all times, the 45th anniversary of the, Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 landing on the moon; on the other hand I was lamenting the state of Indian science. A government report revealed that India spends only 0.88% of its GDP on scientific research against 8% for the US. And we aspire to become a superpower? Whom are we kidding? I am yet to see a superpower that spends so less on science. As I reflected over this, I had a revelation.
“Not only is our science lacking money, but our money is also lacking science.”
The real issue is not that India spends very little on science. The real issue is that we lack the cultural drive to honor science in the first place. Our low spending on science is an outcome of this cultural deficiency.
How do nations honor their heroes? By featuring them on their money. Why? Because we all value and use money, the persons depicted on currency notes are individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the nation. This allows the citizens to draw inspiration from their heroes. When I looked at the currency notes around the world, I found that every country that had a scientist was proud to display on their money the iconography of their scientific contribution which has led to advancement of the frontier of knowledge not only for their nation but for the entire humanity. Let me quote three examples:
- Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727 AD) is considered the most brilliant person that ever was. He discovered the laws of motion, the universal law of gravity, the composition of light and invented calculus all before he was 26. His portrait was British 1 Pound.
- Ibn al-Haitham (965 – 1040 AD) the father of modern optics, ophthalmology, experimental physics and scientific methodology and was first theoretical physicist of the world. His image was on the 10 and 10,000 Iraqi Dinari notes.
- Abu Nasr al-Farabi (872 – 950 AD) conducted the first experiments concerning the existence of vacuum. His image was on the 1 Kazakhstani Tenge.
What gets printed on the money is important because it conveys the nation’s message to its citizens and to the rest of the world. Which country do you think make the best engineers in the world? Germany. German engineering is a metaphor for engineering excellence. And how do the Germans convey this fact? They wrote a mathematical distribution function on their money next to image of Carl Friedrich Gauss, the greatest mathematician of all times.
This tradition of honoring scientists is followed not just by developed nations but also by nations far worse off than India. England and Germany are scientific powerhouses but Iraq and Kazakhstan are not. Yet they all had the cultural drive to honor their scientists, going back hundreds of years into history to find the most deserving scientists to grace their current money. Several nations have maintained this tradition. Einstein was on the Israeli currency; Tesla on the Serbian; and Marie Curie was on both the Polish and the French currency. Many countries have featured more than one scientist. Newton, Faraday, Darwin and Kelvin were on the British; and Galileo, Volta and Marconi were on the Italian currency.
What about India? On the one hand our Mangalyaan is on its way to Mars, on the other hand we are trailing the world in the cultural adoption of science. We do not lack scientists; Bhramagupta and Aryabhatta are no lesser scientists than Al-Haithamor Al-Farabi; Ramanujan is no lesser a mathematician than Gauss. From Baudhayana in the 8th century BC to Chandrashekhar in the 20th century AD, India has produced dozens of extraordinary scientists that any foreign nation would be proud to feature on their money. But not India; we don’t value our own jewels. Our culture is yet to reach a state of maturity where scientific progress is celebrated in everyday life. Therefore we haven’t honored a single scientist on our currency even though we proclaim that we have been doing science since Vedic Ages.
After independence, Gandhi has monopolized our currency notes. What message does this convey? It says three things; we value the Gandhian principles, we were British colonial slaves and, nothing else is valuable to this nation. Yes, we value Gandhian principles but do we really need to show this it across all our currency denominations? Nations that have featured scientists on their currency have also featured their other greats including but not limited to rulers and politicians. People from diverse fields have contributed at the highest level of excellence to rise of India. Can we not spare a few denominations of our currency for them? Will it be disrespectful to Gandhi if one of our currency notes features C. V. Raman or Homi Jehangir Bhabha?
Now that we almost completing our 67th orbit around the sun as an independent nation, it is time we catch up with the rest of world on intellectual maturity. We should respect our past and have a vision for the future; then we can become a superpower. The way to do this is by embracing science in our culture. A scientist on our money would convey a healthy and heartwarming message to the nation because scientists point towards the future.
List of scientists in the currencies of countries
Abu Ali al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham, 10 Iraqi Dinar (1982)
Abu Ali al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham, 10000 Iraqi Dinar (2005)
Abu Nasr al-Farabi, 1 Kazakhstani Tenge (1993)
Adam Smith, 20 British Pounds (2007)
Adam Smith, 50 British Pounds, Clydesdale (2003)
Albert Einstein, 5 Israeli Lirot (1968)
Alessandro Volta, 10000 Italian Lire (1984)
Alexander von Humboldt, 5 East German Marks (1964)
Benjamin Franklin, 100 United States Dollars (1985)
Blaise Pascal, 500 French Francs (1977)
Carl Friedrich Gauss, 10 Deutsch Marks (1991)
Carl Linne (Linnaeus), 100 Swedish Kroner (2003)
Charles Darwin, 10 British Pounds (2005)
Christian Huygens, 25 Dutch Guilder (1955)
Christopher Polhem, 500 Swedish Kroner (2003)
Democritus of Abdera, 100 Greek Drachma (1967)
Erwin Schrödinger, 1000 Austrian Schilling (1983)
Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, 5000 Polish Zloty (1982)
Galileo Galilei, 2000 Itialian Lire (1973)
George Stephenson, 5 British Pounds (1990)
Guglielmo Marconi, 2000 Italian Lire (1990)
Hans Christian Ørsted, 100 Danish Kroner (1970)
Issac Newton, 1 British Pound
Janez Vajkard Valvasor, 20 Slovenian Tolarjev (1992)
Johann Balthasar Neumann, 50 Deutsche Marks (1991)
Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj, 500000000000 Yugoslavian Dinar (1993)
Jurij Vega, 50 Slovenian Tolars (1992)
Kristian Birkeland, 200 Norwegian Kroner (1994)
Leonhard Euler, 10 Swiss Francs (1997)
Loius Pasteur, 5 French Francs (1966)
Lord Ernest Rutherford, 100 New Zealand Dollars (current)
Lord Kelvin, 100 British Pounds, Clydesdale (1996)
Marie Curie, 20000 old Polish Zloty (1989)
Marie and Pierre Curie, 500 French Francs (1998)
Marius Mercator, 1000 Belgian Francs (1965)
Michael Faraday, 20 British Pounds (1993)
Nicolaus Copernicus, 1000 old Polish Zloty (1965)
Nicolaus Copernicus, 1000 old Polish Zloty (1982)
Niels Bohr, 500 Danish Kroner (current)
Nikola Tesla, 100 Serbian Dinar (2003)
Nikola Tesla, 100 Yugoslavian Dinar (1994)
Nikola Tesla, 10000000000 Yugoslavian Dinar (1993)
Nikola Tesla, 5 Yugoslavian Dinar (1994)
Nikola Tesla, 5000000 Yugoslavian Dinar (1993)
Ole Rømer, 50 Danish Kroner (1970)
Oswaldo Cruz, 50 Brazilian Cruzados (1986-8?)
Pedro Nunes, 100 Portuguese Escudos (1957)
René Descarts, 100 French Francs (1942)
Ruggero Boscovich, 1 Croatian Dinar (1991)
Ruggero Boscovich, 10 Croatian Dinar (1991)
Ruggero Boscovich, 100000 Croatian October Dinar (1993)
Ruggero Boscovich, 5 Croatian Dinar (1991)
Ruggero Boscovich, 50000 Croatian October Dinar (1993)
Sejong the Great, 10000 South Korean Won (2007)
Sigmund Freud, 50 Austrian Schilling (1986)
Sir Isaac Newton, 1 British Pound (c. 1984)
Thomas Jefferson, 2 United States Dollars (1976)
Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier, 50 French Francs (1947)
Viktor Ambartsumian, 100 Armenian Dram (1998)
Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), 10 French Francs (1964)
Nilotpal Kanti Sinha,