James W. Elkins was raised in McLean, VA, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He attended McLean High School, a public high school specializing in education of the sciences. It was there that he developed his interest in science by participating in science fairs and national science competitions, including receiving Ford Future Scientists of America and the Westinghouse Science Talent Search (honors group) awards. He attended the University of Virginia where Professor Hugh P. Kelly, a leading expert on atomic physics and provost of the University, was his advisor. He received his Bachelor's degree in physics with high distinction in 1974. His interest in the atmospheric sciences increased while working as a summer student in 1974 under Drs. Hans Mayr and Jay Herman at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD in the Laboratory of Planetary Atmospheres. He received a research scholarship and attended graduate school in the Division of Applied Physics and Engineering at Harvard University. He studied atmospheric physics under Professor Michael B. McElroy, a pioneer in the studies of global warming and the depletion of stratospheric ozone. After receiving a Master's degree in science in 1975, he worked on the atmospheric source of nitrous oxide from the ocean as his thesis topic. He received his Ph.D. in applied physics in 1979. He was a research fellow in aquatic chemistry from 1978 through 1979 under Professors McElroy and Steven C. Wofsy.
Since physical measurements and standards were important to atmospheric studies, he took a position under Mr. Ernest E. Hughes in the Center for Analytical Chemistry at the National Bureau of Standards (currently, NIST) in Gaithersburg, MD in 1979. While at NIST, he prepared the first Standard Reference Material for atmospheric nitrous oxide, and measured the infrared cross-section of CFC-11 and -12, and methyl chloride. In 1986, he joined the Geophysical Monitoring for Climate Change Program as the chief of the Nitrous Oxide and Halocarbons Group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, CO. The group has between 10 and 12 employees and has become the Halocarbons and other Atmospheric Trace Species Group.
Dr. Elkins has authored or co-authored over 90 publications in the fields of global warming and the depletion of stratospheric ozone. His research has covered measurements of atmospheric trace species from the depths of the Pacific Ocean to the heights of the stratosphere. He is the principal instrumental designer for the Airborne Chromatograph for Atmospheric Trace Species (ACATS) that has flown on NASA's ER-2 aircraft. He was the lead author on a paper in Nature that reported the first observational evidence of slowing down in the growth of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a result of the United Nations Montreal Protocol. This paper has won the 1994 NOAA Scientific Paper of the Year Award. Since Dr. Elkins and his colleagues have won ten NOAA Scientific Paper of the Year Awards. He has received numerous other awards including six NASA's Group Achievement Awards to the 1993-94 Stratospheric Photochemistry, Aerosols and Dynamics Experiment (SPADE), 1994 Airborne Southern Hemisphere Ozone Experiment (ASHOE), the Polar Ozone Loss in Arctic Region In Summer (POLARIS), the SAGE-III Ozone Loss Validation Experiment (SOLVE) Teams, Balloon Observations of the Stratosphere Team (BOS) for the successful September 2003 campaign, and Tropical Composition, Cloud and Climate Coupling (TC4) Mission in Costa Rica and Panama in 2007. The Department of Commerce awarded him in 1997 the Silver Medal Award (along with Dr. J.H. Butler, and S. A. Montzka).
Dr. Elkins was the lead principal investigator on the balloon gas chromatograph, the Lightweight Airborne Chromatograph Experiment (LACE). He is a P.I. of a new instrument PAN and other Trace Hydrohalocarbons ExoeRiment (PANTHER) for studying atmospheric chemistry and global warming and received the funding from NASA's instrument incubator program (IIP). He recently completed two experiments to measure ozone-depleting chemicals on the Trans-Siberian Railway. He has contributed to many of the international assessments on climate and stratospheric ozone depletion. He was a contributing author to the 2006 Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change. Former Vice President Albert Gore and the 2006 IPCC report shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Recently, Dr. Elkins has been involved in adopting the gas chromatography technology to measurements on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). He was P.I. of the Unmanned aircraft systems Chromatograph for Atmospheric Trace Species (UCATS) instrument on the NOAA UAS demonstration in 2006 and NASA Fire Mission in 2007 on the NASA Altair UAS platform. He received with others a Department of Commerce Bronze Award for “demonstrating the usefulness of unmanned aircraft systems in accomplishing NOAA’s mission, including operational and research goals in 2007”. He also is the P.I. for UCATS instrument on the Global Hawk Pacific Experiment (GloPac) in 2010 and the future Airborne Tropical TRoposphere EXperiment (ATTREX) for the NASA Global Hawk UAS platform.
In 2007, he and others from his group received “The Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award” from the US E.P.A. for the team’s “measuring the effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol in Reducing Chlorine/Bromine Loading and Repairing the Ozone Layer”. In 2008, he received with others the Department of Commerce Silver Metal Award for “creating the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, which assesses human-produced greenhouse gases and allows the public to track its net influence on climate”. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, American Geophysical Union, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, and the American Institute of Physics. He lives in Boulder, Colorado and is married, has four grown sons, and a wonderful mixed breed dog. He is avid photographer, amateur astronomer, world traveler, auto, airplane, and motorcycle enthusiast..