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William George Penney

William George Penney

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William George Penney, Baron Penney OM
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

, KBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 PhD, DSc, , FRS
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

, FRSE
Royal Society of Edinburgh
The Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland's national academy of science and letters. It is a registered charity, operating on a wholly independent and non-party-political basis and providing public benefit throughout Scotland...

, FIC
Imperial College London
Imperial College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom, specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine...

, Hon FCGI
City and Guilds of London Institute
The City and Guilds of London Institute is a leading United Kingdom vocational education organisation. City & Guilds offers more than 500 qualifications over the whole range of industry sectors through 8500 colleges and training providers in 81 countries worldwide...

 (24 June 1909 3 March 1991) was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

 who was responsible for the development of British nuclear technology, following World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. For this developmental role, Penney is widely regarded as Father of British nuclear programme.

A mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

 by training, he became an expert on, and widely known for his contribution in wave dynamics
Blast wave
A blast wave in fluid dynamics is the pressure and flow resulting from the deposition of a large amount of energy in a small very localised volume. The flow field can be approximated as a lead shock wave, followed by a 'self-similar' subsonic flow field. In simpler terms, a blast wave is an area of...

, both in Shock
Shock wave
A shock wave is a type of propagating disturbance. Like an ordinary wave, it carries energy and can propagate through a medium or in some cases in the absence of a material medium, through a field such as the electromagnetic field...

 and Gravitational waves. He was one of the world's leading authorities on the effects of nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s; and he was tasked with the development of the British atomic bomb
Nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom was the third country to test an independently developed nuclear weapon, in October 1952. It is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the UK ratified in 1968...

.

Early life and education


The son of a sergeant-major
Sergeant Major
Sergeants major is a senior non-commissioned rank or appointment in many militaries around the world. In Commonwealth countries, Sergeants Major are usually appointments held by senior non-commissioned officers or warrant officers...

 in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps
Royal Army Ordnance Corps
The Royal Army Ordnance Corps was a corps of the British Army. It dealt only with the supply and maintenance of weaponry, munitions and other military equipment until 1965, when it took over most other supply functions, as well as the provision of staff clerks, from the Royal Army Service...

 (Royal Army), William George "Bill" Penney was born in Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 on 24 June 1909, and raised in Sheerness
Sheerness
Sheerness is a town located beside the mouth of the River Medway on the northwest corner of the Isle of Sheppey in north Kent, England. With a population of 12,000 it is the largest town on the island....

, Kent
Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

. He attended a technical school in Colchester
Colchester
Colchester is an historic town and the largest settlement within the borough of Colchester in Essex, England.At the time of the census in 2001, it had a population of 104,390. However, the population is rapidly increasing, and has been named as one of Britain's fastest growing towns. As the...

 where he completed his technical studies. From 1924 to 1926, he was educated at Sheerness Technical High School for Boys where he displayed a marked talent for mathematics.

In 1927, while working as a laboratory assistant, his mathematical ability gained him a scholarship to the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
Imperial College London
Imperial College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom, specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine...

. He was awarded the Governor's Prize for Mathematics and graduated with a B.Sc.
Bachelor of Science
A Bachelor of Science is an undergraduate academic degree awarded for completed courses that generally last three to five years .-Australia:In Australia, the BSc is a 3 year degree, offered from 1st year on...

 in Mathematics with First Class Honours in 1929 at age 20. Continuing his studies at the University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

, he obtained his Ph.D.
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 in Mathematics in 1931 at age 22.

He spent two years in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

 as a Commonwealth Fund Fellow. He returned to England and with the award of the 1851 Exhibition Scholarship he attended Trinity College
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

, Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, where he carried out theoretical investigations on the structure of metals and the magnetic properties of crystals.

He obtained a doctorate in Mathematical physics from the University of Cambridge in 1935 on the specialized applications of quantum mechanics to the physics of crystals. In 1936, he was elected to the Stokes
George Gabriel Stokes
Sir George Gabriel Stokes, 1st Baronet FRS , was an Irish mathematician and physicist, who at Cambridge made important contributions to fluid dynamics , optics, and mathematical physics...

 studentship at Pembroke College, Cambridge
Pembroke College, Cambridge
Pembroke College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The college has over seven hundred students and fellows, and is the third oldest college of the university. Physically, it is one of the university's larger colleges, with buildings from almost every century since its...

, but in the same year he returned to London and was appointed Reader
Lecturer
Lecturer is an academic rank. In the United Kingdom, lecturer is a position at a university or similar institution, often held by academics in their early career stages, who lead research groups and supervise research students, as well as teach...

 in Mathematics at Imperial College London
Imperial College London
Imperial College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom, specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine...

, a post he held from 1936 to 1945. As a recognised prodigy at Imperial College
Imperial College London
Imperial College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom, specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine...

 he was set for a distinguished academic career until World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 intervened.

World War II


Penney's area of scientific specialty was the physics of hydrodynamic waves, both shock waves
Shock Waves
Shock Waves, , is a 1977 horror movie written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn...

 and gravity wave
Gravity wave
In fluid dynamics, gravity waves are waves generated in a fluid medium or at the interface between two media which has the restoring force of gravity or buoyancy....

s. During the early years of World War II, he was loaned out to the Home Office
Home Office
The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

 and the Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 where he investigated problems connected with the properties of under-water blast waves from high explosives, a subject of great importance in designing ships and torpedoes. Penney designed and supervised development of the Mulberry harbour
Mulberry harbour
A Mulberry harbour was a British type of temporary harbour developed in World War II to offload cargo on the beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy....

s that would be placed off the Normandy
Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

 beaches during the D-Day
D-Day
D-Day is a term often used in military parlance to denote the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. "D-Day" often represents a variable, designating the day upon which some significant event will occur or has occurred; see Military designation of days and hours for similar...

 invasion. These mobile breakwaters would protect the landing craft and troops from the Atlantic rollers. In 1943, he was released from his duties at Imperial College to work on the Tube Alloys
Tube Alloys
Tube Alloys was the code-name for the British nuclear weapon directorate during World War II, when the development of nuclear weapons was kept at such a high level of secrecy that it had to be referred to by code even in the highest circles of government...

 project, and shortly before D-Day in 1944 he returned to America to work at Los Alamos
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 as part of the British delegation to the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

.

Work on the Manhattan Project


On the Manhattan Project, Penney worked on the use of the atomic bomb, its effects and in particular the height at which it should be detonated. He quickly gained recognition for his varied talents, his technical and policy skills, his leadership qualities, and for his ability to work in harmony with others. Within a few weeks of his arrival he was added to the core group of scientists who made all key decisions in the direction of the program. Other members of that team included J. Robert Oppenheimer, John von Neumann
John von Neumann
John von Neumann was a Hungarian-American mathematician and polymath who made major contributions to a vast number of fields, including set theory, functional analysis, quantum mechanics, ergodic theory, geometry, fluid dynamics, economics and game theory, computer science, numerical analysis,...

, Norman F. Ramsey and Captain William Parsons
William Sterling Parsons
Rear Admiral William Sterling "Deak" Parsons was a naval officer who worked as an ordnance expert on the Manhattan Project during World War II...

 of the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 (USN).

One of Penney's assignments at Los Alamos was to predict the damage effects from the blast wave of an atomic bomb. On 16 July 1945, Penney was an observer at the Trinity test
Trinity test
Trinity was the code name of the first test of a nuclear weapon. This test was conducted by the United States Army on July 16, 1945, in the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, at the new White Sands Proving Ground, which incorporated the Alamogordo Bombing...

 detonation. He was there to observe the effect of radiant heating in igniting structural materials, and had also designed apparatus to monitor the blast effect of the explosions. The Americans considered him to be among the five most distinguished British contributors to the work. General Leslie Groves, overall director of the Manhattan Project, later wrote:
vital decisions were reached only after the most careful consideration and discussion with the men I thought were able to offer the soundest advice. Generally, for this operation, they were Oppenheimer, Von Neumann, Penney, Parsons and Ramsey.


Penney went to Washington for a top secret meeting for a committee target selection. He recommended Hiroshima and Nagasaki because of the hills surrounding the environs which he said would create maximum devastation. He gave valuable advice to the height of the bomb detonation so that the fireball would not touch the earth and also for no permanent radiation contamination on the ground. The U.S. nuclear team repeatedly attempted to recruit Penney as a permanent member, without success.

Along with RAF Group Captain Leonard Cheshire
Leonard Cheshire
Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, Baron Cheshire, VC, OM, DSO and Two Bars, DFC was a highly decorated British RAF pilot during the Second World War....

, he accompanied the American Team to Tinian Island from which the Hiroshima
Hiroshima
is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, and the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu, the largest island of Japan. It became best known as the first city in history to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on it at 8:15 A.M...

 and Nagasaki missions were flown. On 9 August 1945 he witnessed the bombing of Nagasaki. The US authorities had controversially stopped them seeing the Hiroshima detonation, but at the last minute Penney and Cheshire were granted permission to fly in the B-29 Big Stink
Big Stink
Big Stink was the name of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber that participated in the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945...

, one of the observation planes that accompanied the Nagasaki mission bomber Bockscar
Bockscar
Bockscar, sometimes called Bock's Car or Bocks Car, is the name of the United States Army Air Forces B-29 bomber that dropped the "Fat Man" nuclear weapon over Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, the second atomic weapon used against Japan....

. Due to the belated permissions, Big Stink missed its rendezvous with the bomber at Nagasaki. They did see the Nagasaki detonation from the air at a distance, making him one of the few people in the world to witness first-hand either of the Japanese detonations from the air. As the leading expert on the effects of nuclear weapons, Penney was a member of the team of scientists and military analysts who entered Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the Japanese surrender 15 August 1945 to assess the effects of the nuclear weapons.

Post war


At the end of the war the British government, now under Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS was a British Labour politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951, and as the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955...

, believed that America would share the technology that British leaders saw as a joint discovery under the terms of the 1943 Quebec Agreement
Quebec Agreement
The Quebec Agreement is an Anglo-Canadian-American document outlining the terms of nuclear nonproliferation between the United Kingdom and the United States, and signed by Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt on August 19, 1943, two years before the end of World War II, in Quebec City,...

. In December 1945 PM Attlee ordered the construction of an atomic pile to produce plutonium and requested a report to detail requirements for Britain's atomic bombs. Penney returned to England and intended to resume his academic career, but was approached by C. P. Snow
C. P. Snow
Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow of the City of Leicester CBE was an English physicist and novelist who also served in several important positions with the UK government...

 and asked to take up post as Chief Superintendent Armament Research (CSAR, called "Caesar") at Fort Halstead
Fort Halstead
Fort Halstead is a research site of Dstl, an Executive Agency of the UK Ministry of Defence. It is situated on the crest of the Kentish North Downs, overlooking the town of Sevenoaks...

 in Kent, as he suspected Britain was going to have to build an atomic bomb of its own and the government wanted Penney in this job. As CSAR he was responsible for all types of armaments research.

In 1946, at the request of General Leslie Groves
Leslie Groves
Lieutenant General Leslie Richard Groves, Jr. was a United States Army Corps of Engineers officer who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon and directed the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II. As the son of a United States Army chaplain, Groves lived at a...

 and the US Navy, Penney returned to the United States where he was put in charge of the blast effects studies for Operation Crossroads
Operation Crossroads
Operation Crossroads was a series of nuclear weapon tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in mid-1946. It was the first test of a nuclear weapon after the Trinity nuclear test in July 1945...

. In July, he was present at Bikini Atoll
Bikini Atoll
Bikini Atoll is an atoll, listed as a World Heritage Site, in the Micronesian Islands of the Pacific Ocean, part of Republic of the Marshall Islands....

 in the Marshall Islands
Marshall Islands
The Republic of the Marshall Islands , , is a Micronesian nation of atolls and islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, just west of the International Date Line and just north of the Equator. As of July 2011 the population was 67,182...

 and wrote the after action reports on the effects of the two A-Bomb detonations. His reputation was further enhanced when, after the sophisticated test gauges failed, he was able determine the blast power using observations from simpler devices.

The British Nuclear Weapons Programme


However the passing of the McMahon Act (Atomic Energy Act) by the Truman administration in August 1946 made it clear that Britain would be no longer be allowed access to US atomic research. So Penney left the United States and returned to England where he initiated his plans for an Atomics Weapons Section, submitting them to the Lord Portal
Charles Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Charles Frederick Algernon Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford KG GCB OM DSO & Bar MC was a senior Royal Air Force officer and an advocate of strategic bombing...

 (Marshal of the Royal Air Force) in November 1946. During the winter of 1946-1947, Penney returned once again to the United States, where he served as a scientific adviser to the British representative at the American Atomic Energy Commission
United States Atomic Energy Commission
The United States Atomic Energy Commission was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by Congress to foster and control the peace time development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S...

. With almost all other aspects of atomic co-operation between the countries at an end, Penney's personal role was seen as keeping the contact alive between the parties.

Attlee's government decided that Britain required the atomic bomb to maintain its position in world politics. In the words of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin
Ernest Bevin
Ernest Bevin was a British trade union leader and Labour politician. He served as general secretary of the powerful Transport and General Workers' Union from 1922 to 1945, as Minister of Labour in the war-time coalition government, and as Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government.-Early...

 - "We've got to have it and it's got to have a bloody Union Jack on it." Officially, the decision to proceed with the British atomic bomb project was made in January 1947 - however arrangements were already under way. The necessary plutonium was on order from Harwell
Harwell
Harwell may refer to:*Harwell, Nottinghamshire, England*Harwell, Oxfordshire, England, a village**RAF Harwell, a World War II RAF airfield, near Harwell village....

 and in the Armaments Research Department of the Ministry of Supply
Ministry of Supply
The Ministry of Supply was a department of the UK Government formed in 1939 to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to all three British armed forces, headed by the Minister of Supply. There was, however, a separate ministry responsible for aircraft production and the Admiralty retained...

, an Atomic Weapons Section was being organised. The project was based at the Royal Arsenal
Royal Arsenal
The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, originally known as the Woolwich Warren, carried out armaments manufacture, ammunition proofing and explosives research for the British armed forces. It was sited on the south bank of the River Thames in Woolwich in south-east London, England.-Early history:The Warren...

, Woolwich
Woolwich
Woolwich is a district in south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created...

 and was code-named High Explosive Research (or HER).

In May 1947, Penney was officially named to head the HER project. The following month Penney began assembling teams of scientists and engineers to work on the new technologies that had to be developed. In June 1947, Penney gathered his fledgling team in the library at the Royal Arsenal and gave a two-hour talk on the principles of the atomic bomb. Centered at Fort Halstead, the work proceeded on schedule and, in 1950, it was realised that arrangements had to be made to test the first bomb, since it would be ready within two years.

AWRE


Due to the work being spread across a number of test facilities in the UK, that were linked to the project with confusing lines of authority and responsibility, it was realized that a single site was required. The bomb design was also complex and innovative - although it started off based on the design established with the Nagasaki bomb, it used completely new methods of arming and of electrical detonation. In April 1950 an abandoned World War II airfield, RAF Aldermaston
RAF Aldermaston
RAF Aldermaston was a World War II airfield. It was used by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Eighth and Ninth Air Force as a troop carrier group base, and was assigned USAAF station No 467.-Origins:...

 in Berkshire was selected as the permanent home for Britain's nuclear weapons programme. Construction began and in 1951 the first scientific staff arrived at Aldermaston - soon after this, the HER project vacated the Royal Arsenal. On 3 October 1952, under the code-name "Operation Hurricane
Operation Hurricane
Operation Hurricane was the test of the first British atomic device on 3 October 1952. A plutonium implosion device was detonated in the lagoon between the Montebello Islands, Western Australia....

", the first British nuclear device was successfully detonated off the west coast of Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 in the Monte Bello Islands. This was a remarkable achievement and confirmed the qualities of scientific ability and leadership skills of Penney. On his return to England, Penney received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

.

He was also aware of the public relations issues associated with the tests, and made clear-speaking presentations to the Australian press. Before one series of tests the Australian High Commissioner
High Commissioner
High Commissioner is the title of various high-ranking, special executive positions held by a commission of appointment.The English term is also used to render various equivalent titles in other languages.-Bilateral diplomacy:...

 described his press presence: "Sir William Penney has established in Australia a reputation which is quite unique: his appearance, his obvious sincerity and honesty, and the general impression he gives that he would rather be digging his garden – and would be, but for the essential nature of his work – have made him a public figure of some magnitude in Australian eyes".

In 1953, he was offered a Chair
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 at the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 but declined in order to continue work on nuclear technology as director of the Aldermaston site which was now officially named the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment
Atomic Weapons Establishment
The Atomic Weapons Establishment is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads for the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent. AWE plc is responsible for the day-to-day operations of AWE...

 (AWRE).

UKAEA


In 1954, nuclear development was transferred from the Ministry of Supply (MoS) to the newly formed United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is a UK government research organisation responsible for the development of nuclear fusion power. It is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and was formerly chaired by Lady Barbara Judge CBE...

 (UKAEA). From 1954 to 1967, Sir William served on the UKAEA Board, becoming Chairman in 1962. Under his leadership the first British hydrogen bomb was developed and tested in May 1957.

Imperial College


The Rt Hon Lord Penney was Rector of Imperial College
Rector of Imperial College
The Rector of Imperial College is the highest academic official of Imperial College London. The Rector is the chief executive, elected by the Council of the college and Chairman of the Senate. The position is currently head on an interim basis by Keith O'Nions after the resignation of Roy Anderson...

 London from 1967-1973. The college built and named the William Penney Laboratory in his honour in 1987

Legacy and honours


In later years he admitted to qualms about his work but felt it was necessary. When aggressively questioned by the McClelland Royal Commission
McClelland Royal Commission
The McClelland Royal Commission or Royal Commission into British nuclear tests in Australia was an inquiry by the Australian government in 1984-1985 to investigate the conduct of the British in its use, with the then Australian government's permission, of Australian territory and soldiers for...

 investigating the test programmes at Monte Bello and Maralinga in 1985, he acknowledged that at least one of the 12 tests probably had unsafe levels of fallout. However he maintained that due care was taken and that the tests conformed to the internationally accepted safety standards of the time, a position which was confirmed from official records by Lorna Arnold
Lorna Arnold
Lorna Arnold is a historian who has written a number of books connected with the British nuclear weapons programmes.As the second official historian of the British nuclear weapons programmes, she has had access to previously secret documents and personally knew many of the people involved...

. McClelland broadly accepted Penney's view but anecdotal evidence to the contrary received wide coverage in the press. By promoting a more Australian nationalist view, then current in the government of Bob Hawke
Bob Hawke
Robert James Lee "Bob" Hawke AC GCL was the 23rd Prime Minister of Australia from March 1983 to December 1991 and therefore longest serving Australian Labor Party Prime Minister....

, McClelland had also identified "villains" in the previous Australian and British administrations. As a senior witness Penney bore the brunt of the allegations, and his health was badly affected by the experience. He died a few years later at his home in the village of East Hendred
East Hendred
East Hendred is a village and civil parish in the English county of Oxfordshire, about east of Wantage in the Vale of White Horse and a similar distance west of Didcot. In 1974 it was transferred from Berkshire....

, aged 81.

In his obituary in the New York Times he was credited as the father of the British atomic bomb. The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

described him as its "guiding light", and his scientific and administrative leadership was said to be crucial in its successful and timely creation. His leadership of the team that exploded the first British hydrogen bomb
Teller-Ulam design
The Teller–Ulam design is the nuclear weapon design concept used in most of the world's nuclear weapons. It is colloquially referred to as "the secret of the hydrogen bomb" because it employs hydrogen fusion, though in most applications the bulk of its destructive energy comes from uranium fission,...

 at Christmas Island
Kiritimati
Kiritimati or Christmas Island is a Pacific Ocean raised coral atoll in the northern Line Islands, and part of the Republic of Kiribati....

 was instrumental in restoring the exchange of nuclear technology between Britain and the USA in 1958, and he was credited as playing a leading part in the negotiations which led to the treaty forbidding atmospheric nuclear tests
Partial Test Ban Treaty
The treaty banning nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water, often abbreviated as the Partial Test Ban Treaty , Limited Test Ban Treaty , or Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is a treaty prohibiting all test detonations of nuclear weapons...

 in 1963.

Honours


During his lifetime William Penney was made a Commonwealth Fund
Commonwealth Fund
The Commonwealth Fund is a private U.S. foundation whose stated purpose is to promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, especially for society's most vulnerable.-History:...

 Fellow at University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

 (1932); Fellow of the Royal Society (1946); Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
Royal Society of Edinburgh
The Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland's national academy of science and letters. It is a registered charity, operating on a wholly independent and non-party-political basis and providing public benefit throughout Scotland...

 (1970). Among the honours he received was the Rumford Medal
Rumford Medal
The Rumford Medal is awarded by the Royal Society every alternating year for "an outstandingly important recent discovery in the field of thermal or optical properties of matter made by a scientist working in Europe". First awarded in 1800, it was created after a 1796 donation of $5000 by the...

 by the Royal Society (1966). For services to the United States, he was one of the first recipients of the United States Medal of Freedom (with Silver Palm), awarded by President Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

. For his services to Britain he was awarded the OBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 (1946); the KBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 (Knight Commander; 1952); a life peerage taking the title Baron Penney, of East Hendred
East Hendred
East Hendred is a village and civil parish in the English county of Oxfordshire, about east of Wantage in the Vale of White Horse and a similar distance west of Didcot. In 1974 it was transferred from Berkshire....

 in the Royal County of Berkshire
Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

 (1967); the Order of Merit
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

 (1969). He served on the board of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is a UK government research organisation responsible for the development of nuclear fusion power. It is an executive non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and was formerly chaired by Lady Barbara Judge CBE...

 (from 1954–1967) and became its Chairman (1962–1967).

External links

  • The Penney Report (1947); Wikileaks
    Wikileaks
    WikiLeaks is an international self-described not-for-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Its website, launched in 2006 under The Sunshine Press organisation, claimed a database of more...

    .