Belfast Telegraph

John Stewart Bell: Belfast City Council to bend rules on the naming of streets to honour the scientist who corrected Albert Einstein

By Rebecca Black

Plans to name a street after a groundbreaking Belfast scientist look likely to get the go-ahead after Sinn Fein councillors got their knuckles rapped over their opposition.

Belfast City Council looks set to bend its rule on naming a street after a person after the party did a U-turn to get behind a proposals for the east Belfast street.

Titanic Quarter Ltd had applied to name a currently unnamed street beside Belfast Metropolitan College as John Bell Crescent. The suggestion was inspired by Belfast-born John Stewart Bell who is regarded as one of the 20th century's greatest physicists.

At a committee meeting last week, councillors voted it down because it has established a convention where it avoids using the names of people when deciding on street names.

Just two streets in the city have been named after individuals since the 1960s, Prince Edward Park in 1962 and Prince Andrew Park in 1987.

Bell was born in Belfast in 1928 to a family from a poor background. He completed two degrees at the Queen's University, first in experimental physics in 1948, and one in mathematical physics a year later before going on to complete a PhD in physics at the University of Birmingham.

The Belfast man went on to gain a prestigious job with the European Council for Nuclear Research where he worked on theoretical particle physics and accelerator design.

He also investigated the foundations of quantum theory – and came up with the pioneering Bell's Theorum which famously corrected Albert Einstein.

He won both the prestigious Heineman Prize (1989) and Hughes Medal (1989), publishing groundbreaking research in quantum physics which superseded the earlier work by Albert Einstein.

Bell had been nominated for a Nobel prize in 1990 – but tragically he could not win it after dying unexpectedly of a cerebral haemorrhage in Geneva in 1990.

Sinn Fein councillor Mairtin O Muilleoir told the Belfast Telegraph that councillors had had their "knuckles rapped" for refusing the street name suggestion.

He revealed his 16-strong party group will propose at the October council meeting that the committee decision be overturned.

"Notwithstanding our respect for longstanding council policy, this is a request which deserves an imaginative and positive response," he said. "We have been in conversations with the proposers, including Queen's, NI Science Park and Titanic Quarter over recent days – some may translate that as having been gently rapped over the knuckles – and the case they make is compelling and unanswerable.

"He is a great role model. Having come from an ordinary working class family who couldn't afford to send him to university, John forged a path to Queen's Physics Dept as a lab assistant from the old Belfast Tech.

"He was an outstanding scientist; his groundbreaking research in quantum mechanics, resulting in Bell's Theorem which famously corrected Einstein, would most certainly have won him the Nobel Prize if he had not died prematurely in 1990.

"The breakthroughs he discovered continue to be developed in Belfast. The field in which he carried out his pioneering research forms the basis for the successful financial services and web security companies which are now at the core of the Titanic Quarter."

Mr O Muilleoir also urged other councillors to join Sinn Fein in overturning the decision. "It's my hope that my colleagues from all parties will support this street naming in time for the first John Bell Day and exhibition at Queen's on November 4," he said.


John Stewart Bell was born in Belfast in 1928 to a family from a poor background.

He was the only one of his siblings to stay at school over the age of 14, and his family could not afford to send him to one of the city's grammar schools. Instead he attended Belfast Technical High School, now Belfast Metropolitan College, and then entered Queen's University.

From these humble beginnings, Bell rose to become one of the world's greatest quantum physicists.

Towards the end of his life, Bell was nominated for the Nobel Prize, but died in 1990 before he could be awarded the prize, which is never awarded posthumously.

Belfast Telegraph


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