Archibald Hill

Archibald Hill

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1922, jointly with Otto Meyerhof
Date of Birth: 26.09.1886
Country: Great Britain

  1. Archibald Vivian Hill: Biography
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Academic Career
  4. Contribution to Physiology
  5. Later Life and Legacy

Archibald Vivian Hill: Biography

Early Life and Education

Archibald Vivian Hill was born on September 26, 1886 in Bristol, England. He was an English physiologist and one of the pioneers of biophysics and operations research. Hill received his early education at home from his mother until the age of seven. The family then moved to Weston-super-Mare, where Hill attended a small preparatory school. In 1899, they relocated again to Tiverton, Devonshire, and Hill prepared to enter Blundell's School, where he showed great aptitude for mathematics. He became a member of the school's debating club and participated in track and field events.

Academic Career

After earning a scholarship, Hill entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1905 to study mathematics. He excelled academically and completed the three-year course in just two years. However, Hill's interest in mathematics waned, and he sought advice from his mentor, physiologist Walter Morley Fletcher. Fletcher, along with Frederick Gowland Hopkins, conducted research on the biochemical properties of frog muscles. Fletcher suggested that Hill pursue physiology, which he believed would better suit Hill's intellectual abilities. Taking Fletcher's advice, Hill immersed himself in the study of physiology, focusing on chemistry and physics. In 1909, he completed his natural sciences education, passing his exams with distinction.

After graduating, Hill received the George Henry Lewes scholarship and began working at the Cambridge Physiological Laboratory. J.N. Langley, the head of the laboratory, offered Hill the opportunity to continue the research on the physiological characteristics of frog muscles started by Fletcher and Hopkins, who were studying the role of heat in muscle contraction. Using a thermopile, Hill discovered that "the mechanism of muscle contraction is associated with the process of converting the energy of chemical reactions into high potential electrical energy." In 1911, a year after his election to the Trinity College Council, Hill traveled to Germany, where he familiarized himself with the latest advancements in physiology.

Contribution to Physiology

Upon his return to Cambridge after four months, Hill continued his experiments, studying the energy transformations occurring in muscles. Over the next three years, his research focused on measuring the heat generated during muscle contractions and the mechanical work produced, as well as understanding the relationship between these findings and the biochemical aspects of muscle activity.

Hill's work paralleled the experiments of German-American biochemist Otto Meyerhof, who found that lactate was formed in contracting muscles and was subsequently broken down in the presence of oxygen. Taking these findings into account, Hill linked the production of initial heat to the formation of lactate from its derivatives, and the production of heat during recovery to the oxidation and decomposition of lactate. His data showed that the heat generated during both phases of muscle contraction was enough to oxidize only a small amount of lactate, implying that a portion of lactate remains potentially unspent in its derivatives.

In 1923, Hill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for his discoveries relating to the production of heat in muscle." He shared the prize with Meyerhof. In his Nobel lecture, Hill emphasized the complex nature of muscle physiology and the need for further experiments that would encompass all aspects of statics, dynamics, and thermodynamics, as well as the importance of developing and utilizing new laboratory instruments.

Later Life and Legacy

In 1920, Hill became a professor of physiology at the University of Manchester, leaving Cambridge. There, he confirmed his earlier results in his experiments on muscle heat production, demonstrating that the frog's leg muscle produces heat during both phases of its activity. This challenged the prevailing belief that heat production was only associated with muscle contraction. Hill also proved that the presence of oxygen was not necessary for the formation of heat in the initial phase, but was essential during the recovery phase.

In his later research, Hill turned his attention to the mechanism of nerve impulse conduction and discovered that they also generated heat. He introduced the concept of "oxygen debt" to describe the deficit of oxygen and the excess of lactate in periods of intense physical exertion. Hill's concept explained the processes occurring in an athlete's body during strenuous exercise and the subsequent elimination of oxygen debt during recovery through deep breathing.

Hill's outspoken opposition to the policies of the Nazi regime in Germany led him to become an advocate for persecuted Jewish and dissenting scientists. He played an active role in the organization of the Academic Assistance Council (later known as the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning), which helped provide refuge for scientists fleeing Nazi persecution.

Archibald Vivian Hill died on June 3, 1977, from complications of a viral infection. He was remembered as a man with traditional tastes and habits, simple in his emotions, and sincere in his friendships. Hill's contributions to physiology earned him membership in over 40 scientific societies and honorary degrees from 17 universities, including Edinburgh, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, and Columbia. He was awarded the Order of Merit (1946) and the Copley Medal of the Royal Society (1948), among many other medals and awards.