John Cairns joined the faculty of Virginia Tech in 1968. Before that he was Curator of Limnology, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, from 1948-1966. Following this, he was Professor of Zoology, University of Kansas, 1966-1968. Summers from 1961 to 1994 Cairns taught at either the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory or at the University of Michigan Biological Station.
Cairns chaired or co-chaired 74 graduate committees, most at Virginia Tech. The 20 courses he taught at Tech ranged from Protozoology, Limnology, Ecotoxicology, and Restoration Ecology, to Ethics in Science, Hazard Evaluation, and Ecosystem Risk Analysis. His research has been primarily in ecotoxicology, ecological restoration, protozoan community dynamics, and, for the last two decades, sustainable use of the planet.
Cairns retired as both Director, University Center for Environmental and Hazardous Materials Studies, and University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology in June 1995.
Major post-retirement activities for Cairns have been very little changed from his activities and interests before retirement. Until he fell in April 2002 (resulting in 4 spinal compression fractures), Cairns enjoyed hiking, folk dancing, swimming, and concerts. Since his fall, he has concentrated on reading and, most importantly, writing books and peer-reviewed journal articles. His first on-line book Goals and Conditions for a Sustainable World (2002) is available free at www.esep.de/journals/esep/esepbooks/CairnsEsepBook.pdf. Ecotoxicology, 2nd Edition, was edited with three colleagues and published in 2003. Two books in preparation are Eco- and Sustainability Ethics and An Odyssey through Stressed Ecosystems: A Continuing Scientific Detective Story.