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ROBERT W. CAIRNS 1909-1985 BY ALEXANDER H. FLAX ROBERT W CAIRNS former executive director of the Amer- ican Chemical Society, cried on January 27, 1985, of Alz- heimer's disease. Dr. Cairns macle substantial contributions to the technology of high explosives and propellants throughout his brilliant career, which included both govern- ment service ancI positions in private industry. A native of Oberlin, Ohio, Robert Cairns received an A.B. from Oberlin College in 1930 and a Ph.D. from Johns Hop- kins University in 1932; he then attended the advanced man- agement program of the Harvard Graduate School of Busi- ness Administration. In 1934 Cairns began his thirty-seven- year career at Hercules as a research chemist, working on propellants and explosives. He was named director of the Hercules Research Center near Wilmington, Delaware, in 1941. His successful career at Hercules continued with his appointment as (Erector of re- search in 1955 and his election to the boarc! of directors in 1960. He became vice-president of Hercules in 1967 but re- tired from the company in 1971 to become deputy assistant secretary for science ancT technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce. Dr. Cairns also served the U.S. government on several oc- casions while still at Hercules. During a leave of absence from the company from 1953 to 1954, he was appointed deputy 69
70 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES assistant secretary of defense for research and development. From time to time, Cairns also served as a consultant to var- ious federal departments and agencies. In 1968 the presi- clents of the National Academy of Sciences anct the National Academy of Engineering appointed him chairman of the new Joint Committee on Scientific and Technical Communi- cation. Dr. Cairns became a member of the National AcacI- emy of Engineering (NAE) in 1969 and served as a member of the NAE Council from 1970 to 1974. Early in his career at Hercules, Cairns investigated the fun- ciamentals of detonation in solic! explosives. These studies subsequently provicled the foundation for many chemical developments in the Hercules laboratories, developments that led to numerous successful achievements in the com- pany's military programs. These achievements, in addition to Cairns's research in the optical and photographic recording of detonations anct explosive reactions, created a major breakthrough in providing improved experimental tech- niques for the stucly of extremely fast chemical reactions. The combination of knowlecige and experience gained from Dr. Cairns's basic, applied research in explosives resulted in the starting point for the early stages of George Kistiakow- sky's clevelopment of military explosives for the U.S. National Defense Research Committee. Robert Cairns's early recognition of the potentialities of double base propellants for rocket applications led to the de- velopment of high-potential solventIess propellants for all U.S. military rockets used in World War Il. Cairns directed the role of Hercules as the sole supplier of these propellants by developing the manufacturing processes neeclecI to pro- cluce the propellants. A significant outgrowth of this background and experi- ence was the practical development of a newly discovered and quite revolutionary technique for casting explosive, pro- pelIant compositions of any size. The development of this technique was a vital factor in Hercules's current role as the supplier of the final propellant stages of all present U.S. In-
ROBERT W. CAIRNS 71 tercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), the propulsion stages of the Sprint, and the point-clefense propellant stages of the anti-ICBM. In 1972 Dr. Cairns was namect executive director of the American Chemical Society (ACS), after having been ap- pointed president of the society in 1968. This seconc! ap- pointment enabled Cairns to continue his successful career with ACS during which he eventually held all three major policy and administrative positions in the society. In addition to being named executive director, he became chairman of the board of directors in 1972. The international aspects of chemistry were of special in- terest to Cairns for many years. When he became executive director of ACS in ~ 972, he had been active for some time in the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (lUPAC), a nonprofit association of forty-five national orga- nizations that makes recommendations for action on chemi- cal matters of international importance anc! promotes coop- eration among chemists of member countries. At the time of his ACS appointment, Dr. Cairns was president of lUPAC's Division of Applied Chemistry. In 1973 he was elected vice- presiclent of lUPAC and then servect as the union's president from 1975 to 1977. In actdition to his service with ACS, Dr. Cairns was a mem- ber of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Physical Society, and the Commercial Chemical Development Association. He also server! as president of the Industrial Research Institute and from 1961 to 1962 was chairman of the American Section of the Society of Chemical Inclustry. He was president of the University of Delaware Re- search Foundation and a member of the honorary societies Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. One of Dr. Cairns's most notable honors was his selection as recipient of the Perkin Medal in 1969 from the Society of Chemical Industry. Established in 1906, the Perkin Mecial is the highest honor given for outstanding work in applied chemistry in the United States. The citation in part react
72 · · ~ MEMORIAL TRIBUTES " for his leadership of group effort in the field of polymer chemistry." In 1974 Cairns received the Inclustrial Research Institute Mecial. This medal is given annually "for outstanding accom- plishment in, or management of, inclustrial research which contributes broadly to the clevelopment of industry or the public welfare." Dr. Cairns was recognized primarily for his "perceptive understanding and effective leadership of indus- trial research and development, ranging from basic research to commercialization." Robert Cairns was a declicatect and well-liked man. The ACS news report stated that "Cairns was a highly visible fig- ure at ACS his 6'7" height and head of snowy white hair were hard to miss. His gracious and friendly manner was well-known to all personnel at ACS headquarters." The Robert Cairns family inclucles his wife, the former Katherine Kuhn of Columbus, Ohio; three sons, Michael John, Robert Christopher, and Stephen William Waldo; and a daughter, Lindsey Ann.