Dr Smith is a Senior Research Fellow in Scanning Probe Microscopy at the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Portsmouth. His PhD, supervised by the late Sheelagh Campbell, entitled "Electrosynthesis of Novel Polyheterocycles" was awarded in 1995. He holds a BSc(Hons) in Applied Chemistry (II-i; 1991) and a PGCE in Post-Compulsory Education (1998), also from Portsmouth. Formal training in Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (STM) was received at the Hahn-Meitner-Institute, Berlin (now Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin), during the second year of his PhD.

His current collaborative research efforts are mainly focused in areas of nanotechnology and targeted drug delivery, in which Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) plays an important role. He has supervised 7 PhD students to completion, has 5 PhD students in progress, has been an examiner for 5 PhD theses (and 1 MPhil) and acts as unit manager for the Microscopy Suite, which houses 7 state-of-the-art advanced microscopes (including live cell imaging). He is Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society (FRMS), where he serves as a Member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Microscopy (since 2001), and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA). He is also a Professional Member of the Institute of Nanotechnology (MIoN) and Member of the Institute of Materials Finishing (MIMF), where he serves as vice-chair on the Publications Committee and is a member of the Southern Branch Committee. He has contributed to over 140 research publications since 1994 and was awarded, along with coauthors, the Canning Bicentenary Medal for best practical paper in Transactions of the Institute of Materials Finishing in 2012. He received the Vice-President's Fund Award of the Royal Microscopical Society in 2012 for a collaborative public understanding of science project involving local artists.

He has given research presentations at major international conferences held in Maastricht, Aachen and Heidelberg, and has also been invited to give presentations at national and international microscopy meetings (recently at the Universities of Rouen, Strathclyde, Southampton and Warwick, and in London).

James also collaborates with Dr Eugen Barbu at the Biomaterials Research Laboratory, established to offer various techniques and expertise for innovative industrial/commercial companies in the form of consultancy through to contract R&D work.

His teaching commitments include Graduate School postgraduate teaching, advanced microscopy training for PhD students, PhD and MPharm project supervision.