Atmospheric scientist takes part in lofty experiments for an exciting new BBC show


Dr Jim McQuaid from the University of Leeds is among the scientists who took to the skies in the world's largest airship for one of the most ambitious atmospheric experiments on television.

In a new two-part show for BBC Two, ‘Operation Cloud Lab: Secrets of the Skies’, Dr McQuaid, who works in the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science in the School of Earth and Environment, will fly from coast to coast across the USA aboard the Skyship 600.

Dr McQuaid said: “The Cloud Lab project was a once in a lifetime experience and when I was asked to put together the suite of instruments to explain how the atmosphere works, I jumped at the chance.”

During the shows, Dr McQuaid and the rest of the team will look at the relationship between life and weather, explore the science that control the creation and destruction of clouds and examine a growing cloud's internal structure. They will also shed light on how hurricanes develop and why pollution has suppressed hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico.

The airship is ideal for exploring the atmosphere because it can remain stationary while the team watch weather phenomena develop and then move to get the best view. 

It is also stable enough for the team to conduct scientific experiments, such as sampling air from different regions (arid deserts, moist oceans and polluted cities) while measuring the properties of the clouds in an attempt to understand which type produces the most clouds.  

“Because the airship flies so slowly compared to the research aircraft that we usually use for our research, we could collect so many more 'measurements per miles’ than usual,” said Dr McQuaid.

“What is great is that we will get some new science from our observations for this TV programme. I am already working with US research teams who are really keen to get their hands on our unique dataset.”

You can watch the first episode of Operation Cloud Lab: Secrets of the Skies on BBC Two at 8pm on Wednesday, 16 July.  Watch the trailer now.

Further information

Dr Jim McQuaid is available for interview. Please contact Sarah Reed, Press Officer at the University of Leeds, on 0113 34 34196 or email

Image credit: Dr Jim McQuaid