John William Sutton Pringle was born in Manchester on 22 July 1912. He was educated at Winchester College, and was awarded a scholarship at King’s College Cambridge in 1931. His research career began in Cambridge in 1934 and he was University Demonstrator in Zoology 1937-1938 and Fellow of King’s 1938-1944.
After war service on airborne radar with the Telecommunications Research Establishment and later with the Ministry of Transport, Pringle returned to Cambridge as lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Fellow of Peterhouse. Much of his most important research, on the physiology of cicada song, proprioception in insects, and insect flight muscle was conducted in the Cambridge years to 1961.
In June 1961 Pringle accepted the Linacre Chair of Zoology and moved to Oxford where he remained for the rest of his life. His period at Oxford, though not always smooth, was marked by notable achievements such as the building of a large new laboratory housing the Departments of Zoology and Experimental Psychology and the subdepartment of Molecular Biophysics, a major contribution to the founding in 1970 of the new Honour School of Human Sciences and the establishment of his own ARC unit for research in muscle biophysics and insect physiology. From the late 1960s he also developed an active interest in the problems of science in developing countries, and he was especially involved with various research institutes and universities in East Africa.
Pringle retired as Linacre Professor in 1979 and died in 1982.
Supplementary papers comprising:
The surviving collection is almost exclusively concerned with Pringle's scientific career, and includes almost no documentation for his unusually wide range of outside interests. His university teaching and administration at Cambridge and Oxford are well documented in Sections B and C respectively. Section C is particularly rich in its full account of the protracted struggles over the siting and design of the new Zoology department; many of the files were prepared by Pringle himself and reflect his own awareness of the historical interest of the documents. There is also material here relating to the ARC unit of which Pringle was Honorary Director and which was the focus of his principal research interest on insect flight muscle, including research notes, ideas for seminars, and the 'internal memoranda' circulated by the team. Regrettably, there is no surviving material here for Pringle's active contribution to the establishment of the multi-disciplinary Honour School of Human Sciences at Oxford.
The development of Pringle's research is well illustrated by the notebooks, notes and correspondence assembled in Section D, covering the long span 1934-1982 (as well as an even earlier school exercise- book of 1928). They include his early 1934 expedition to the Atlas Mountains, his important 1953 expedition to Ceylon to study cicada song, drafts for lectures and publications, notes of discussions with colleagues, talks at conferences and the like.
Section E brings together drafts and scripts for lectures and publications covering a period of over thirty years, 1949-1982, and also including a talk given as an undergraduate to the Cambridge University Natural Science Club.
Section F, Science in the Third World, is of interest for its full record of Pringle's involvement with the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) at Nairobi, especially as a member of the Governing Board from 1972 (Chairman 1973) to 1978, and a director of research on a major project from 1973. Here too Pringle's sense of history prompted him to assemble his own file of 'early history' as well as a full general record.
Sections G and H are relatively slight and probably do not reflect Pringle's participation in learned societies or symposia. Similarly, Section J, Correspondence, is chiefly of interest for its documentation of the careers of many of the members of the ARC unit at Oxford.
Most of the material was received from the Department of Zoology, Oxford, by courtesy of Professor Sir Richard Southwood and Mr. K. Marsland.
An obituary by Nigel Pringle (nephew) from Sailplane and Gliding was received from Mrs. Beatrice Pringle. Some published papers relating to Pringle's work at Oxford were made available by Dr. R.H. Abbott and Dr. Belinda Bullard.
MSS. Eng. misc. c. 3317-3321 were acquired separately and have their own printed catalogue.
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Pringle | John William Sutton | 1912-1982 | Biologist