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) with a research focus on the in situ measurement of atmospheric aerosols, their sources and their processes. He has participated in many field projects in a wide variety of environments, including urban, rural, marine, tropical rainforests and mountaintops.
He has more recently become involved in the study of black carbon (BC) and its impacts on air quality and climate, specifically including investigations into their optical properties. This is through the use of instrumentation such as the Single Particle Soot Photometer (SP2) and application to optical measurements and models. This has included both field and laboratory measurements.
Since 2013, James Allan has had a joint position between NCAS and the University of Manchester, where he currently has the position of Reader. He also has a position on the UK Air Quality Experts Group (AQEG) at the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).