Who would you rather see on a $50 bill: Ulysses S. Grant or the helmeted visage of a spacewalking astronaut? Idaho-born designer Travis Purrington believes that the U.S. would be better served commemorating the spirit of innovation and discovery instead of a dead president.

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In fact, Purrington feels that most of our greenbacks are long overdue for a makeover ‚ÄĒ and his master's thesis for the Basel School of Design presents a vision of currency commemorating scientific achievements. The $10 bill replaces Alexander Hamilton with the amazingly versatile molecule, the Buckyball. And while the $100 bill is currently all about the Benjamins, Purrington opts for a grander vision with a drawing of the cosmos.

As Foreign Policy reports:

Purrington is thinking ambitiously. The design, he says, is partly about "being able to look at ourselves as human beings outside of ourselves on a very large scale." It's a kind of humanistic, secular, highly scientific outlook on the world that believes in progress based on human reason.

The $20 is about the "preciousness of our natural resources," Purrington says. It pairs blood cells with the ocean, a building block and where life began. A starry universe is overlaid on the crashing wave. The gold lettering reads: "The pursuit of."

The contrast between the $20 and the current version in circulation is the most marked. Now, Jackson stares out from the $20, a reminder of the 46,000 Native Americans he forced off their ancestral lands in an act of sustained brutality almost unprecedented in American history.

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Purrington calls himself a "huge fan of space exploration," and the $50 is an homage to that program. The circuit board and the astronaut: Two symbols of the possibilities of the post-war era. The astronaut in the image is the American Danny Olivas on STS-128's third and final spacewalk.

The ever so slight white outline to the left of the Braille is an image of the Wright brothers' first flight. This time, the gold lettering over the astronaut reads: "Home of the brave."

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Purrington has no expectations that his ideas would actually be adopted, but they're nonetheless an intriguing thought-experiment about how the U.S. could take an introspective look at its identity in a new millennium. "A bank note," says famed Swiss designer Roger Pfund, "is an ambassador for a country."

Images: Travis Purrington.

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