James King

It was great while it lasted - thanks!

Favourite Thing: Travel to remote places to discover all the new and exciting processes occurring that no one else has been able to observe.



University of Guelph, Canada 1998-2002, 2003-2006


B.Sc., Ph,D.

Work History:

All over! Canada, USA, Mongolia, Japan, Botswana, Namibia, UK

Current Job:

Research Scientist


Oxford University

Me and my work

I study dust storms around the world by travelling to remote arid regions to better understand how dust affects past, present, and future climate.

My work is a combination of chemistry, physics, maths and geology that normally has me working in Geography departments. This blend of knowledge in the sciences is crucial to studying the role of dust storms on the climate, people and the environment. I go to deserts around the world to measure dust storms directly with modified weather stations, wind tunnels and special cameras, and then create models to predict how these processes will affect other landscape processes. Dust storms block the radiation from reaching the surface by absorbing some of of  it and reflecting the rest, can cause health issues for any animals or humans that breathe the dust, and slowly pulls away any fertile nutrients on the ground that farmers require to keep their crops growing. By monitoring the climate, soils, and geology of an area I can see what impact dust storms are having on a certain area in the past, currently and in the future. I work with the UK Met Office to add these processes into their global climate models so that they can improve the forecast of the climate in the next 20 – 100 years.

My Typical Day

There is not a typical day! I spend half the year on the road either camping in the desert or travelling to conferences.

Field work takes up a lot of my time and better represents a typical day for my work as a scientist (especially when filling this form in on a rainy day in the office). As I study dust storms all of my field site are located in deserts and a usually very remote. A day will start by packing up camp and driving a 4×4 a couple hours to our next site where we will have a modified weather station. I will download the data collected on the autonomous weather station data logger, check to make sure all the instruments are still working properly, change the filters on the dust sampling equipment and get all the instruments working again if any are broken. Additionally, soil samples are taken from the surrounding areas to be brought back to Oxford and analysed in the lab for their nutrient and other chemical properties. Lastly, I will use a portable wind tunnel to test the surrounding area to see at what wind speed the soil will start emitting dust. The wind tunnel also has a dust collector so that the samples can be returned to the lab for further analysis. Once satisfied with all the data and samples collected, we set up camp again somewhere protected from the wind and sun.  Someone starts a fire to cook dinner and make a well deserved cup of tea!

What I'd do with the money

I will use the money to purchase 20 Raspberry Pi computers for Science Oxford and help them develop a program so local schools can have fun designing programing projects!

At £20 per computer, the Raspberry Pi makes a great introduction into the world of programming, electronics and data logging. These little computers are slowly taking over home programming projects and are being integrated into larger systems in cash poor areas as everything from power meters to weather stations! With the £500 I will purchase 20 of these computers and all the necessary add-ons to make them functional and donate them to Science Oxford – my local science outreach chapter and STEM representative office. I will then help develop a set of workshops for a range of primary and secondary school aged young scientists so that they can take on this new challenge and have fun with programming.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Relaxed, passionate and adventerous!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

A listen to an eclectic mix. Have a listen to Radio Paradise on TuneIn Radio – its a favourite!

What's your favourite food?

Being in the field a lot means I am not a picky eater, but I do enjoy a good pie!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Went on river boat cruise along the Chobe River and saw wild Elephants, Zebra, Giraffe, Crocodiles, Hippopotamus, Water Buffalo and more up close!

What did you want to be after you left school?

Wasn’t sure! But, I knew I loved to travel seeing new and exciting things.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes – I would always get in trouble for not doing my homework!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Geography – and it still is!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Help local communities understand how they can lessen the effects of dust storms on their livelihood.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

A professor in one of my classes as an undergrad inspired me to become a scientist as he kept showing all the cool places he got to visit!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Probably a teacher! I use to teach downhill skiing and use drive rally cars so those are options too!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

More time in a day, being home more often, and unlimited funding!

Tell us a joke.

What always sits in the corner but can move all round the world? A stamp.

Other stuff

Work photos:

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