2023 Inductees

James Cairns

James L. Cairns, Ph.D.

CEO, Abyssal Systems, Inc.

62 U.S. Patents

James L. Cairns is CEO of Abyssal Systems, Inc., and the Founder and Executive Director of the Cairns Foundation. Dr. Cairns’ pioneering underwater electrical, fiber-optic connector technologies have revolutionized subsea surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, and ocean energy production.

Dr. Cairns’ electrical/electronic and fiber-optic connector technology allowed circuits for the first time to be mated and de-mated reliably within the extremely harsh environment of the deep ocean. The need for deep-ocean electrical connectors goes back to the World War II development of SONAR for antisubmarine warfare. Prior to the mid 1950’s, the “dry mate” connectors existing then had to be assembled and disassembled in a dry environment before and after each submersion. In Dr. Cairns’ seminal 1968 patent, the electric sockets were housed in sealed fluid-filled chambers where the pressures are balanced to the exterior environment by a movable portion of the chamber wall. His principle of oil-filled and pressure-balanced construction has become the universal standard for subsea connectors.

His innovations have revolutionized anti-submarine warfare and subsea surveillance by providing sophisticated subsea systems for homeland security and military surveillance; expanded the global area available for conventional deepwater oil and gas production in addition to facilitating the emerging and burgeoning industry of sustainable offshore windmill farms; and made possible real-time oceanographic observatories by providing internet access on the seafloor thereby enabling tsunami, volcanic and earthquake early warning systems for coastal communities around the world.

Dr. Cairns also co-founded two Florida technology companies which he later sold to Lockheed Corporation and Teledyne Technology Corporation, respectively. He holds 62 U.S. patents and received the Marine Technology Society’s Compass-Rolex Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award and Lockheed Martin Award for Excellence in Marine Science and Engineering. In 2017, he was inducted into the Offshore Energy Center Hall of Fame for Pioneering Technology. He earned his Ph.D. at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California-San Diego, on a full Navy Fellowship.