Papers and correspondence of Robert (Robin) Hill, 1899-1991

Held at: Cambridge University Library
Reference and contact details: GB 0012 Add. MS 9267
Title: Papers and correspondence of Robert (Robin) Hill, 1899-1991
Dates of creation: 1915-1994
Extent: 45 boxes
Level of Description: Fonds
Language of Material: eng

Administrative/Biographical History

Hill was born on 15 March 1899 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. He was educated at Bedales School and, after First World War service in the Anti-gas Department of the Royal Engineers (University College London), Emmanuel College Cambridge where he read for the Natural Sciences Tripos specialising in Chemistry for Part II. At Bedales he had developed an interest in natural dyes and dyeing techniques which continued throughout his career. In 1922 he joined F.G. Hopkins's Department of Biochemistry where he was directed to research on haemoglobin. After a series of papers on the properties of haemoglobin, a mutual interest in haem compounds led in 1926 to collaboration with David Keilin, then working at the Molteno Institute, Cambridge on the isolation of cytochrome c. Another interest of Hill's was meteorology and in the early 1920s he developed a 'fish-eye' camera, a camera with a lens able to photograph through 180 degrees, and thus able to photograph the whole sky at once. After a visit to Singapore and the Dutch East Indies in 1932 he continued his haemoglobin research but was also able to turn to plant biochemistry. He embarked on the study of photosynthesis, with research into oxygen evolution of chloroplasts, which led in 1937 to the discovery of the 'Hill reaction'. From 1922 Hill's work had been supported by various research grants but in 1943 he was taken onto the scientific staff of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) though he remained working in the Cambridge Biochemistry Department. Also in 1943, in cooperation with the East Malling Research Station, Maidstone, Kent he initiated research on fruit tree rootstocks. Hill continued to receive most recognition for his work on photosynthesis and from the late 1950s he concentrated on the energetics of photosynthesis, making in 1960 his second great contribution to photosynthesis research with the discovery (with F.L. Bendall), of the 'Z scheme' of electron transport. He retired from the ARC in 1966 though his research continued little diminished until his death in 1991. In his later years Hill worked particularly extensively on the wider issue of the application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to photosynthesis.

Hill was elected FRS in 1946 (Royal Medal 1963, Copley Medal 1987). He died in 1991.

See D.S. Bendall, 'Robert Hill', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 40, 141-170 (1994).

Scope and Content

The papers consist primarily of research material and scientific correspondence. All aspects of Hill's research are documented from Bedales School to shortly before he died, a period of over seventy years. Represented are his earliest scientific interests in meteorology and dyeing, school and undergraduate notes, his first postgraduate research on inorganic pigments, and his subsequent investigations in the biochemistry of haemoglobin and haematin, including his collaboration from 1926 with Keilin on the isolation of cytochrome c. There is good documentation of his work on photosynthesis including research leading to discovery of the 'Hill reaction' in 1937, and his and F.L. Bendall's outlining of the 'Z scheme' in 1960. Hill's interest in the relationship of thermodynamics to photosynthesis is particularly well represented - including a sequence of fifty notebooks used over a period of thirty years from 1960 and drafts of the major papers he submitted for publication to the Royal Society in 1961 and Nature in 1980 but which remained unpublished. Hill continued to work in other areas most of which are documented including the chemistry of anthraquinone colouring matter in plants in the 1930s, work on dye-stuffs, and the collaboration with A.B. Beakbane and others at the East Malling Research Station on the biology of fruit tree rootstocks. There is also extensive documentation of Hill's development of the fish-eye camera in the 1920s and 1930s, including many notebooks, photographs and correspondence relating to the marketing of the lens system with R. & J. Beck Ltd. Hill's scientific correspondence is substantial but disappointing in that he rarely kept copies of outgoing correspondence. The most extensive sequences are those from E.J.H. Corner relating to Hill's 1932 Singapore visit, with A.B. Beakbane and others at East Malling relating to the rootstock research from 1943, and with his fellow researcher in plant photosynthesis, D.A. Walker from the 1950s. In addition to the research material and scientific correspondence there are important records of Hill's plant biochemistry lectures at Cambridge, and documentation of the visit to Singapore and later visits to France in 1947 as part of a Cambridge University/East Malling Research Station arboricultural expedition and Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1958 to advise on the biochemistry of tea fermentation.

System of Arrangement

By section as follows: Biographical, Research, Fish-eye camera, Cambridge University, Publications, Lectures, Societies and organisations, Visits and conferences, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Administrative Information

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1991 from Mrs Priscilla Hill, widow and in 1992-1993 per Dr D.S. Bendall, Hill's Royal Society memorialist, by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists. Deposited in Cambridge University Library in 1994.

Access Conditions

Access to holders of full Reader's Tickets of Cambridge University Library.

Further Information

Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Robert (Robin) Hill (1899-1991) by T.E. Powell and P. Harper, NCUACS catalogue no. 46/2/94, 151pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath

Associated Material

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Cambridge holds examples of the 'fish-eye' camera and stereoscopic photographs taken by Hill.