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James was born and raised in Shropshire, England. He obtained his MChem (2010) from the University of York and his PhD (2014) from the University of Bristol, where he studied transmembrane anion transport under the guidance of Professor Anthony Davis. James then moved to the University of Edinburgh to work as a postdoctoral research associate with Professor Scott Cockroft, interrogating single molecules and reactions using transmembrane protein nanopores. He then took up a postdoctoral position at Northwestern University in the United States, working with Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart (2016 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry) and Professor Douglas Philp, studying molecular machines, systems chemistry and self-replicating molecules.
James returned to the United Kingdom in September 2020 to take up a position as Lecturer in Organic Chemistry at the University of Reading. His group's research interests focus on the study of systems chemistry, membrane transport and molecular machines, particularly the development of stimuli-responsive membrane-bound assemblies and coupling replication processes with compartmentalised architectures.