Robin Hill (biochemist)

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Robin Hill
Robert Hill (biochemist).jpg
Robert Hill FRS
Robert Hill

(1899-04-02)2 April 1899[1]
Died15 March 1991(1991-03-15) (aged 91)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Known for
Scientific career
Notable studentsFrederick Whatley
David Alan Walker (postdoc)[3][4]
InfluencesFrederick Gowland Hopkins
InfluencedBrian S. Hartley[5]

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

Robert Hill FRS[1] (2 April 1899 – 15 March 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.[6][7][8] He also made significant contributions to the development of the Z-scheme[9][10] of oxygenic photosynthesis.[2][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Education and early life[edit]

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),[citation needed] and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he read Natural Sciences. During the First World War he served in the Anti-gas Department of the Royal Engineers.[citation needed]


In 1922, he joined the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge, where he was directed to research hemoglobin. He published a number of papers on hemoglobin, 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 continued to work in the Cambridge Biochemistry Department. Hill continued to receive most of his recognition for his earlier work on photosynthesis, and beginning in the late 1950s, his work concentrated on the energetics of photosynthesis. In collaboration with Fay Bendall, he made his second great contribution to photosynthesis research with the discovery of the 'Z scheme' of electron transport.

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 cultivated plants such as madder and woad. He painted watercolours using pigments he himself extracted.[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.

Awards and honours[edit]

The Robert Hill Institute at the University of Sheffield, from which he received an honorary degree in 1990, was named after him.[17] Hill was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1946, his certificate of election reads:

He was awarded the Royal Medal in 1963, and the Copley Medal in 1987.


  1. ^ a b c d Bendall, D. S. (1994). "Robert Hill. 2 April 1899-15 March 1991". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 40 (0): 142–170. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1994.0033. ISSN 0080-4606.
  2. ^ a b Walker, David Alan (2002). "'And whose bright presence' – an appreciation of Robert Hill and his reaction". Photosynthesis Research. 73 (1/3): 51–54. doi:10.1023/A:1020479620680. ISSN 0166-8595. PMID 16245102.
  3. ^ Walker, D. A.; Hill, R (1967). "The relation of oxygen evolution to carbon assimilation with isolated chloroplasts". Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. 131 (2): 330–8. doi:10.1016/0005-2728(67)90146-6. PMID 6049483.
  4. ^ Walker, D. A. (1997). "Tell me where all past years are" (PDF). Photosynthesis Research. 51: 3–4. doi:10.1023/A:1005798803998.
  5. ^ Hartley, Brian (2004). "The First Floor, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge (1952 – 58)". IUBMB Life. 56 (7): 437–439. doi:10.1080/15216540412331318974. PMID 15545222.
  6. ^ Hill, R. (1937). "Oxygen Evolved by Isolated Chloroplasts". Nature. 139 (3525): 881–882. doi:10.1038/139881a0.
  7. ^ Hill, R.; Scarisbrick, R. (1940). "Production of Oxygen by Illuminated Chloroplasts". Nature. 146 (3689): 61–62. doi:10.1038/146061a0.
  8. ^ Hill, R. (1939). "Oxygen Produced by Isolated Chloroplasts". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 127 (847): 192–210. doi:10.1098/rspb.1939.0017.
  9. ^ Walker, D. A. (2002). "The Z-scheme – down hill all the way". Trends in Plant Science. 7 (4): 183–185. doi:10.1016/S1360-1385(02)02242-2. PMID 11950615.
  10. ^ Hill, R.; Bendall, F. (1960). "Function of the Two Cytochrome Components in Chloroplasts: A Working Hypothesis". Nature. 186 (4719): 136–137. doi:10.1038/186136a0.
  11. ^ "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/49777.
  12. ^ Hill, R.; Whittingham, C.P. (1953). Photosynthesis. London: Methuen.
  13. ^ Archives Hub, Papers and correspondence of Robert (Robin) Hill, 1899-1991
  14. ^ Prince, R. C. (1992). "Robert Hill, FRS; his published work". Photosynthesis Research. 34 (3): 329–32. doi:10.1007/BF00029806. PMID 24408827.
  15. ^ Robin Hill's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  16. ^ Bendall, D.S. (1971). "[33] Cytochrome components in chloroplasts of the higher plants". Methods in Enzymology: 327–344. doi:10.1016/S0076-6879(71)23109-8.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "EC/1946/12 Hill, Robert". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 8 July 2019.