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John Plane

Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry

"Our research interests span the three branches of atmospheric chemistry: laboratory studies (kinetics and photochemistry), atmospheric measurements, and modelling. We show varied research interests with a common aim of understanding the chemistry of planetary atmospheres."
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Atmospheric and Planetary Chemistry


Understanding the vital resource that is our atmosphere is essential for sustainable future development. Amongst other issues, Atmospheric Chemistry influences air quality and hence human health, and climate change and hence the future of our planet. Missions to other planets and moons in our solar system are revealing how extraordinarily diverse atmospheres have developed, which in turn helps to understand the evolution of our own atmosphere. More than a thousand exoplanets (around other stars in our galaxy) have now been discovered, and we are starting to be able to detect their atmospheric properties.

Unravelling the complexity of the chemistry of an atmosphere requires a range of complementary approaches from laboratory studies and field observations, through simulations to models - all of which are covered in the School of Chemistry. Our work in the terrestrial atmosphere is closely aligned with three of NERC’s seven science themes – Climate System, Sustainable Use of Resources, and Environment, Pollution and Human Health. We are also developing a strong research programme into chemistry relevant to other planets in the solar system and to newly discovered exoplanets.

Atmospheric Chemistry

The application of laboratory measurements, field studies and modelling to the study of the Earth’s atmosphere.  Research in this area focuses on:

  • Measuring key species in the atmosphere – e.g. oxidizing radicals in the troposphere (laser-based techniques) and metallic species in the mesosphere (from satellites and rockets)
  • Laboratory studies to understand: the chemical oxidation of hydrocarbons and how these are linked to air quality and climate change issues; how new particles form in the atmosphere and their role in chemistry; and the chemistry of meteor-ablated metals in the upper atmosphere
  • Modelling – Leeds is home to the Master Chemical Mechanism for detailed tropospheric box modelling, and researchers have contributed to the development of whole atmosphere models such as the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model.

Many of these research interests are coordinated through ICAS  and the School is a member of the Leeds York NERC Doctoral Training Partnership

Planetary Chemistry

The conditions of other planetary and lunar atmospheres in our solar system is very different from Earth. Although some of the approaches are the same (a combination of laboratory work, observations and modelling) several aspects of the work are different:

  • Enhanced focus on chemistry at low temperatures (<100 K) using a pulsed Laval expansion, specialised flow tubes and theoretical models such as MESMER;
  • Our experience in combustion and high temperature pyrolysis chemistry is relevant for the conditions of ‘super Earth’ and ‘hot Jupiter’ exoplanets;
  • Laboratory studies on the transport of phosphorus based information carriers on meteorites.

There are strong links with Physics and collaborations with colleagues in the USA at NASA, JPL and many university departments.

PhD Projects

The range of PhD projects  available is very wide and potential projects can be found on the Project opportunities  page, as well as through links from individual staff research pages.  The group is involved with several doctoral training programmes including NERC Science@Leeds, the EPSRC Low Carbon Biofuels DTAs.


The group has superb research facilities that include:

  • A range of state-of-the-art field measurement instruments;
  • The Highly Instrumented Reactor for Atmospheric Chemistry (HIRAC) for atmospheric simulations;
  • 10 interchangeable laser bays which allow the flexible combination of over 20 lasers to a range of apparatus including flow tubes, flash photolysis apparatus, TOF mass spectrometers, Laval expansion;
  • Synthetic laboratories
  • A range of computing facilities including access to the Leeds supercomputer ARC1 and N8 POLARIS supercomputer

Links to instrument manufacturers, government departments (e.g. DEFRA) and a wide range of international collaborators are very strong.  Our engagement with industry is driven through the University’s Climate and Geohazard Services Hub.

The group members are:

Dr Mark Blitz
Dr Wuhu Feng
Prof Dwayne Heard
Dr Trevor Ingham
Dr Terry Kee
Dr Julia H Lehman
Prof John Plane
Prof Paul Seakins
Dr Daniel Stone
Dr Lisa Whalley

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