DSTL scientist and MoD Brexit team triumph at Women in Defence Awards

Patent-winning polymath Phillippa Spencer lands double win at UK celebration

Air Marshal Sue Gray and Phillippa Spencer Credit: PA Consulting

By Jim.Dunton

22 Nov 2019

A long-serving Defence Science & Technology Laboratory polymath and a Ministry of Defence team tasked with overseeing Brexit preparations have had their achievements saluted at the Women in Defence UK Awards.

Phillippa Spencer, who has spent 17 years working at DSTL, picked up both the 2019 woman of the year award and the outstanding contribution award at this week’s ceremony in the City of London.

Her nomination was in recognition of her contribution to the defence and security of the nation in a career that has seen her apply both mathematical and statistical thinking across a wide range of technical domains including cyber, artificial intelligence, data fusion, chemistry and biology.


Earlier this year, Spencer was awarded a patent for a method she devised for interrogating mixtures of nucleic acids by short tandem repeat analysis. It complements other patents she has secured – including one for the pre-symptomatic diagnosis of sepsis.

Over the years, Spencer’s work has been used by healthcare workers in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak and she has also worked on the F-35 fighter project.

Last year she was involved in the clean-up in Salisbury following the Novichok incident, where she applied statistical modelling to determine whether locations or vehicles were safe to use.

DSTL chief executive Gary Aitkenhead said he was extremely proud of Spencer’s achievements, which represented an “exceptional” contribution to defence.

“She has been involved with some of the key aspects of defence during her 17 years at DSTL and her work has really made a difference in keeping the public safe and saving the lives people across the world,” he said.

“I want to see more women like Phillippa leading the way to inspire other women and to show them that careers in science and technology are worth considering.”

Wednesday night’s event, which took place at the Guildhall, also saw the MoD’s Eu Exit Virtual Team pick up the inclusive teamwork award.

The team was nominated for “its collaborative, dedicated and passionate approach to preparing for EU exit, by over 50 members – female and male, civilian and military –  across more than six groups”.

The citation continued: “With leadership shown at every level, together they delivered the MoD’s EU exit no deal preparation and supported other government departments.”

Women in Defence UK  founder Angela Owen said the awards – which attracted close on 500 nominations across 10 categories – showcased the “inspiring achievements and courage” of the finalists and winners.

“These are truly exceptional people, who deserve to be celebrated,” she said. “They exemplify our watchwords for the year ‘deeds not words’, as rather than comment or complain, they actively work to make defence a better place for all.”

The judging panel for the awards included Joanna Cavan, director of strategy, policy and engagement; Alison Stevenson, director of overseas bases at the MoD’s Joint Forces Command; Morag Stuart, director of commercial improvement at Defence Equipment and Support; and Lois Nicholson of the British Embassy in Washington DC.

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