27/11/2020

English Heritage calls for More Blue Plaques for Scientists

Call comes as Physicist and 'Champion of Science', Abdus Salam, is awarded blue plaque in Putney

English Heritage is calling on the public to nominate more notable scientists from history for London blue plaques. This will help the charity increase the number of scientists honoured across the capital by the scheme. 

The call comes as English Heritage unveils a blue plaque to the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, Abdus Salam, in Putney.

The Pakistani scientist’s work on electroweak theory contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle – the ‘God particle’ which gives everything mass. Salam was also active in improving the status of science in developing countries in general and in Pakistan in particular. 

Salam joins Charles Darwin, Rosalind Franklin and Alan Turing among the scientists with blue plaques. However within the London Blue Plaques scheme, science is an underrepresented field with only around 15% of the 950 plus blue plaques across the capital dedicated to scientists.

The scheme relies on nominations so if there is to be an increase in the number of blue plaques to scientists on the streets of the capital, English Heritage needs more suggestions from the public of figures who lived or worked in London.

Rebekah Higgitt, English Heritage Blue Plaques Panel member and Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland, said:

'This year the importance of scientists and their work has become abundantly clear. And yet we have relatively few blue plaques to physicists, chemists, biologists and other scientific figures, reflecting the scheme’s historic bias towards celebrating the arts over the sciences.

'We want to see more blue plaques to such brilliant and inspiring figures as Abdus Salam but we need the public’s help. Please, send us your suggestions for scientific figures and their associated buildings, and help us mark their achievements and links to the city.'

English Heritage’s blue plaque to Abdus Salam can be found in Putney, which served as Salam’s London base from 1957 until his death in 1996. It was his home when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979.

The red-brick Edwardian house included a study where amongst his books (including his favourite Wodehouse novels), incense stands and record player, Salam would think and write while listening to long-playing records. He was interested in Koranic verses and an eclectic variety of music by composers ranging from Strauss to Gilbert and Sullivan. 

Abdus Salam’s son, Ahmad Salam, said:

'The fact that most of the plaque is taken up with the words ‘champion of science in developing countries’ would have made my father very happy.

'For him, above all else, that was the legacy he wanted to impart. To be honoured in this way would have been truly humbling to a man who believed ‘scientific thought and its creation is the common and shared heritage of mankind'.

'This was a belief fully supported by the ideals, freedoms and values he found here in England. He loved the intellectual freedom, the religious freedom and the respect for people of education.'

Blue Plaques for scientists – Key Statistics: 

  • The earliest scientist to be commemorated with a blue plaque is Sir Isaac Newton, born in 1642
  • The earliest female scientist to have a blue plaque is Ada Lovelace, born in 1815
  • The first plaque commemorating a scientist was erected in 1876, and honours Michael Faraday, born in 1791
  • Of the London boroughs, the City of Westminster has the most blue plaques at 315. Only 24 of those celebrate scientists

How to get a London blue plaque 

The London blue plaques scheme celebrates the link between significant figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. In order to receive a blue plaque, figures must be judged to have met a number of criteria, including the following:   

  • They should have made a great and lasting impact on society
  • They should have been dead for more than 20 years
  • The London building in which they lived or worked should still survive 

Find out more about our blue plaques, including how to nominate someone.

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