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Robin Hill (biochemist)

For other people names Robert Hill, see the disambiguation page Robert Hill. Robin Hill is also the name given to varieties of azalea bred by Robert Derby Gartrell.

Robert Hill FRS (April 2, 1899–March 15, 1991), known as Robin Hill, was a British plant biochemist who, in 1939, demonstrated the 'Hill reaction' of photosynthesis, proving that oxygen is evolved during the light requiring steps of photosynthesis. He also made significant contributions to the development of the Z-scheme of oxygenic photosynthesis.

Hill was born in New Milverton, a suburb of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. He was educated at Bedales School, where he became interested in biology and astronomy (he published a paper on sunspots in 1917), and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he read natural sciences, specialising in chemistry. During the First World War he served in the Anti-gas Department of the Royal Engineers.

In 1922 he joined the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge where he was directed to research haemoglobin. He published a number of papers on haemoglobin, and in 1926 he began to work with David Kellin on the haem containing protein cytochrome c. In 1932 he commenced work on plant biochemistry, focusing on photosynthesis and the oxygen evolution of chloroplasts, leading to the discovery of the 'Hill reaction'.

From 1943 Hill's work was funded by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), although he remained working in the Cambridge Biochemistry Department. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1946. Hill continued to receive most recognition for his work on photosynthesis and from the late 1950s his work concentrated on the energetics of photosynthesis. Working with Fay Bendall he made his second great contribution to photosynthesis research. In 1960 Bendall and Hill discovered the 'Z scheme' of electron transport. He was awarded the Royal Medal in 1963, and the Copley Medal in 1987.

Hill retired from the ARC in 1966, although his research at Cambridge continued until his death in 1991. In his later years Hill worked on the issue of the application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to photosynthesis.

He was an expert on natural dyes and grew plants such as madder and woad. He painted watercolours using pigments he had extracted himself. [1] In the 1920s he developed a fish-eye camera and used it to take stereoscopic whole-sky images, recording cloud patterns in three dimensions.

The Robert Hill Institute at the University of Sheffield, from which he received an honorary degree in 1990, was named after him.

Key publications

  • Hill, R., 1937. Oxygen evolution by isolated chloroplasts. Nature 139 S. 881-882
  • Hill, R. 1939. Oxygen produced by isolated chloroplasts. Proc R SocLondon Ser B 127: 192–210
  • Hill, R. and Whittingham, C.P. 1953. Photosynthesis. Methuen, London
  • Hill, R. and Bendall, F. 1960. Function of the 2 cytochrome components in chloroplasts- working hypothesis. Nature 186 (4719): 136-137 1960


  • Dictionary of National Biography
  • Archives Hub, Papers and correspondence of Robert (Robin) Hill, 1899-1991
  • Mabberley, D.J. Hill, Robert [Robin] (1899-1991), plant biochemist. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  • Walker, D.A. 2002. ‘And whose bright presence’ – an appreciation of Robert Hill and his reaction. Photosynthesis Research 73: 51–54, 2002.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Robin_Hill_(biochemist)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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