Professor A V Hill The early years
Part 1 – The Early Years
Archibald Vivian Hill was born in Bristol on 26th September, 1886, the son of a timber merchant. Following the break-up of his parents' marriage when he was just three years old, AV (as he later preferred to be known) and his sister Muriel remained with their mother, whose devotion and tireless efforts gave them both a good start in life. AV went to Brean Villa Preparatory School, Weston-super-Mare, until the Spring of 1900 when the family moved to Morley Terrace, Tiverton. He was admitted to Blundell's School as a Day Boy, and in the following year obtained a Foundation Scholarship.
While at Blundell's it became clear that Mathematics was his strongest subject, at that time taught by J. M. Thornton, a man who promoted elegant simplicity and directness of language – characteristics later attributed to A V Hill himself. He won the Duckworth Memorial Prize for Mathematics in his final two years, 1904-5. He also excelled in sport; playing for the Blundell's 1st XI Hockey team in their unbeaten season in 1903, coming 2nd in the 1904 Open Russell, representing Day Boys in house cricket and rugby matches, and was a valued member of the School's Shooting VIII at Bisley from 1902 to 1905. He later said of his time at Blundell’s ‘once there I was on a moving staircase to what happened later’.
A V Hill won an Open Scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where, at the end of his second year he gained the place of Third Wrangler in the Mathematics Tripos. Having become rather disillusioned with mathematics, on the suggestion of his tutor, Dr. (later Sir) Walter Morley Fletcher, in 1907 he began to study for the Natural Sciences Tripos, taking physiology chemistry and physics. In his final year he began research in the Physiological Laboratory, his first topic being ‘the efficiency of a frog’s muscle as a thermodynamic machine’.
He gained a first in 1910, and was elected a Research Fellow of Trinity College. This enabled him to continue what was to become a life-time’s work in the study of heat evolution in muscles and nerves and the chemical changes associated with it. His mathematical training was put to good use in his quantitative analysis of the experiments undertaken by him and others. In biochemistry, the ‘Hill co-efficient’ (a quantity concerning co-operativity in complex chemical reactions) is still widely in use, and it was A V Hill who first coined the term ‘oxygen debt’ in relation to muscular exercise. Such was his drive to obtain more accurate results that he himself often built the galvanometers and other instruments necessary.
In June 1913 A V Hill married Margaret Neville Keynes, sister of the economist John Maynard Keynes, and together they were to have four children, all of whom excelled in their chosen professions. In the following year he was appointed University Lecturer of Physical Chemistry at Cambridge, but the outbreak of war in August saw him joining the Cambridgeshire Regiment and he did not return to his laboratory until demobilisation. He entered as a Regimental Captain, but was soon asked to head an anti-aircraft experimental section and, gathering an eminent group of scientists around him, became engaged in what we now call ‘operational research’. The work of this group was later incorporated in standard textbooks, such as the Textbook of Anti-Aircraft Gunnery (1924-5). By the end of the War he had been promoted to the rank of Brevet-Major.
A V Hill received an O.B.E. in 1918, and in the same year was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. He also readily accepted the honour of being President of the Old Blundellian Day in the Summer of 1919, and in December was chosen as a Governor of the School, a post he was to hold for over 25 years. After the war he returned briefly to his researches in the Cambridge laboratory, until in 1920 he accepted the chair of Physiology at Manchester University, where he intensified his research on muscular movement, including that of humans.