Archibald Vivian Hill Biography (1886-1977)


Hill was born in Bristol, England, on September 26, 1886. His father, a timber merchant, abandoned the family when Hill was three, leaving his mother to educate the boy and his younger sister. After completing his primary education, Hill earned a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, which he entered in 1905. At Trinity, Hill majored in mathematics and completed the usual three-year course in two years. In the process, however, he found that he was moreinterested in physiology than in mathematics.

After graduating in 1909 with a degree in natural sciences, Hill began research on frog muscle at the Cambridge Physiological Laboratory. At the time, muscle research was proceeding in a number of directions. Walter Fletcher (1873-1934) and Frederick Gowland Hopkins, for example, had earlier studied the chemical changes that occur in muscles during contraction, discovering the roleof lactic acid in that process.

Hill, however, decided to forego the study of the chemical process to concentrate instead on the heat changes that occur during muscular activity. Scientists had already found that a small amount of heat is produced during muscularcontraction. Hill's goal was to analyze that process in greater detail. Thetask was a challenging one. Only very small amounts of heat are produced during muscular activity and for only very short periods of time. To deal with these problems, Hill used a thermocouple to measure heat changes. A thermocouple is a very sensitive kind of thermometer that converts heat changes into electrical currents that are more easily read and recorded.

With the thermocouple, Hill was able to find that heat is formed twice duringmuscular activity, once during the contraction itself and once following thecontraction. In the former case, heat is evolved rapidly, and in the secondcase, more slowly, but often in larger quantities. Hill also demonstrated that oxygen is consumed during the second phase rather than during the contraction. His techniques were so precise in this research that he was able to detect temperature changes as small as 0.003° C in a few hundredths of a second. For his accomplishments, Hill was awarded a share of the 1922 Nobel Prizefor physiology or medicine.

After serving with distinction in World War I, Hill did research on anti-aircraft artillery at King's College, Cambridge, work for which he was knighted in 1918. He became Professor of Physiology at Manchester University in 1920 and then moved to University College, London, in 1923. From 1926 to 1951, he was professor at the Royal Society, serving also as Secretary of the organization from 1935 to 1946. He continued his research in physiology after his retirement in 1952.

Hill married Margaret Neville Keynes in 1913. They had two sons and two daughters. Hill died in Cambridge on June 3, 1977.

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