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John Cairns, 2000-06-14

 Item — Multiple Containers
Oral History | John Cairns
Oral History | John Cairns

Scope and Contents

John Cairns, physician and molecular biologist, is interviewed by Mila Pollock and Deborah Barnes, in Chipping Norton, England, on July 14, 2000. John Cairns describes the people and circumstances which influenced and guided his career in science. From his relationships with the pioneers of the field of molecular biology in the 1950s, his research on viruses and DNA replication at the Australian National University, Caltech, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, to his years as director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and his work and friendships there with Al Hershey, Barbara McClintock and Jim Watson are topics discussed in detail. John Cairns' interview discusses the following: Scene 1. Growing up -- Scene 2. Beginning a career in medicine -- Scene 3. Scientific success while traveling the world -- Scene 4. Raising children in different places -- Scene 5. Animal viruses research -- Scene 6. Caltech: finding a home -- Scene 7. The developing field of molecular biology -- Scene 8. DNA replication -- Scene 9. Studying the vaccinia virus -- Scene 10. A varied career -- Scene 11. Alfred Hershey -- Scene 12. Working at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory -- Scene 13. Experiments at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory -- Scene 14. Being Director at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory -- Scene 15. Barbara McClintock -- Scene 16. Hershey and McClintock: Nobel Prize recipients -- Scene 17. Jim Watson -- Scene 18. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in transition -- Scene 19. An interesting life -- Scene 20. Mutation experiments, Harvard University -- Scene 21. Great moments in research: isolating the E. coli mutant -- Scene 22. The Paul-A mutant


  • Creation: 2000-06-14


Conditions Governing Access

Portions of this collection have been digitized and are available online: Select tapes have been digitized thanks to support from CLIR Recordings at Risk Grant awarded in 2021, these tapes are available for research online via our Oral History Website and in person at CSHL Archives. Please contact CSHL Archives with any questions regarding availability.

Biographical / Historical

John Cairns (born Oxford, England, 1922-died 2018) was a physician and molecular biologist. He received his degree in medicine from Oxford University in 1946. Cairns worked as a virologist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, at the Virus Research Institute in Entebbe, Uganda and at the Curtain School of Medical Research in Canberra. From 1960-61, Cairns spent his sabbatical at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory under Alfred Hershey. He returned to serve as director of the Lab from 1963-1968, while continuing his research on DNA replication and initiating the technique autoradiography. During Cairns’s tenure, he saw Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory officially form from an amalgamation of the Long Island Biological Association’s Biological Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Genetics. Cairns remained as a staff member until 1972 when he was appointed head of the Mill Hill Laboratory of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. Cairns subsequently worked at the Harvard School of Public Health until his retirement in 1991. In addition to Cairns’s scientific endeavours, he was also one of the editors of "Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology."


1 Optical Disks (Talking science with John Cairns) : DVD ; 55 min

2 Cassettes (Camcorder footage) : Hi-8 - CSHL1226, CSHL1227

5 Cassettes (Working Copies) : VHS: CAIRNS_JOHN_2000_01 - (Tape #John Cairns) [0:56:57] edited video; CAIRNS_JOHN_2000_02 (Tape#2010) [01:01:27] unedited interview by Mila Pollock; CAIRNS_JOHN_2000_03 (Tape #2010E John Cairns) [0:41:22] edited video; CAIRNS_JOHN_2000_04 (Tape #2010E55M) [0:57:02] edited video; CAIRNS_JOHN_2000_05 [duplicate of CAIRNS_JOHN_2000_04]

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English