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H. John F. Cairns Collection

Identifier: JFC

Scope and Contents

This collection contains correspondence, reprints, clippings, research data, and grant applications from 1950-2009. Correspondence is during John Cairns’ tenure at Harvard University, as well as the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. Collection also includes correspondence between Patricia Foster and John Cairns.


  • Creation: 1950 - 2009

Access Restrictions

Some restrictions apply, see Archivist for details. Access is given only by appointment, 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Use Restrictions

Archival materials must remain in the archival reading area. Item duplication is to be done by archivists. Fees are applied to copies made. Digital photography is permitted by users. Due to the very fragile nature of some materials in this collection, some are available through photocopies; others must be used under the supervision of an archivist.


John Cairns, physician and molecular biologist, 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 Entrebbe, 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 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. He then returned to Oxford and published Matters of Life and Death: Perspectives on Public Health, Molecular Biology, Cancer, and the Prospects for the Human Race in 1997. Cairns passed away in 2018 at the age of 95.


1 box (1 linear foot)

Language of Materials



The John Cairns Collection documents work of John Cairns from 1950-2009. The collection is mainly correspondence and Cairns’ publications.

Arrangement Note

Collection is kept in original order, following the file names imposed by Dr. Patricia Foster. Archivists added additional folders/descriptions to larger folders with mixed contents.


Material was originally acquired and organized by Dr. Patricia Foster, Professor Emerita, Biology at Indiana University. Dr. Foster and Dr. Cairns were colleagues and collaborators. Dr. Foster sent the collection to Mila Pollock, Executive Director, CSHL Library & Archives.

Related Collections

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Collection, James D. Watson Collection.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives Repository

Library & Archives
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
One Bungtown Rd
Cold Spring Harbor NY 11724 USA