Penny grew up in North London and gained her first experience of scientific research as a WISE Scholar at GEC in her sixth form. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, and was sponsored by British Gas, where she researched the then new area of solid oxide fuel cells. She joined the Ministry of Defence as a Scientific Officer in 1993. There she designed novel armours for fighting vehicles, conducting many explosives trials and becoming the national expert on electrically powered armours. She led several research groups in the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), covering Materials Science, Acoustics, Dispersion Hazard Prediction and more before leading Dstl’s Physics Department, and becoming a fellow and trustee of the Institute of Physics.
In 2012 she moved to be the head of Dstl’s Cyber and Information Division and took up her visiting professorship in Electronics and Computer Science at Southampton University. She was the executive sponsor of Dstl’s gender equality network and a county silver commander for major incident response. Just prior to taking over at the Met Office Penny became Dstl’s acting Chief Technical Officer. She was appointed the first female CEO at the Met Office in 2018, and is our national representative at the World Meteorological Congress.
Penny has a strong interest in innovation and exploiting intellectual property, as part of which she has served as a director of Ploughshare Innovations Ltd and a mentor for Future Worlds. In her personal life she is an expert choral singer and lover of the natural world, which also led to a stint as treasurer and trustee of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. She is married to a teacher and they have two grown-up children, both also singers.