James Allan studied physics with computational physics at UMIST from 1996 to 2000, graduating with an MPhys with honours (1st Class). He started his postgraduate studies in 2000, working with the newly-developed Aerodyne Aerosol Mass Spectrometer (AMS). His work focused on the development of the numerical techniques and software to process AMS data and the application of the AMS to ambient sampling during field projects in a variety of different environments. The software tools he developed are still used as standard for the analysis of data from the AMS and the related Aerosol Chemical Speciation Monitor (ACSM). His PhD thesis was titled An Aerosol Mass Spectrometer: Instrument Development, Data Analysis Techniques and Quantitative Atmospheric Particulate Measurements and he graduated in 2004.
Since 2003, he has worked as a scientist within the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), initially within the Distributed Institute for Atmospheric Composition (DIAC) and latterly within the Composition Directorate. His research focus is on the in situ measurement of atmospheric aerosols. He has participated in many field projects in a wide variety of environments, including urban, rural, marine, tropical rainforests and mountaintops. He has continued to mainly focus on intensive in situ measurements on ground, ship and airborne platforms.