John Cairns on Raising Children in Different Places
  John Cairns     Biography    
Recorded: 14 Jul 2000

Africa is nothing! Africa is a hostile place, but Australia is a real place. And that is why if your house is going to set on fire the best neighbors to have are Australians because they do not panic. [For example,] you have just been watching Paparesta playing [Pete] Sampras, and you can see the one main quality Paparesta had was that he was in there working away the whole time [and] never panicked. Australians never panic because they are brought up in a physical world where you can get lost in the forest.

In fact, our children in kindergarten, I think—our children in Canberra in those days were taught what to do if you get lost in the forest—because every year, one or two children would get lost picnicking and they’d be lost for two days and…eventually they’d be found! And the important thing was that [the children] should learn not to die of fright, which is what people do die of quite a lot. So this is a fantastic educational experience for the children! I don’t want to knock Australia, but I think it’s quite a good idea that by the time you reach about ten or twelve to move somewhere else and get another view of life.

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.

In addition to Cairns’s scientific endevours, he is also one of the editors of Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology.