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Science in Peace and War: The life and legacy of A V Hill

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Black and white head and shoulders photograph of A V Hill

16 Nov 2022

  • Start: 14:00
  • End: 17:00

Wolfson Hall, Churchill College, Cambridge and online

Symposium to mark the centenary of the award of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine to the physiologist, A V Hill, with Otto Meyerhof.

The event will take place at Churchill College, and will be followed by a reception. Attendance is free and open to all, both in person and online.


Introduction and welcome

Dr Andrew Brown, “The Early Life of Archibald Vivian Hill (1886-1977)”

Andrew Brown will speak on A V Hill’s childhood and early years at Cambridge, as explored in his new biography of Hill, “Bound by Muscle”.

Vivian, as he was known at home, was a West Country boy.  His parents split up when he was about four years old, and his mother, Ada, raised him and his sister as a single parent. Ada was a loving and resourceful woman, ambitious for both children.  She saved enough money to allow Vivian to enter a small prep school, where he was soon top of the class and competitive on the sports’ field.  From the beginning his education was dependent on scholarships, first to Blundell’s School and thence to Trinity College, Cambridge.  This necessity steeled him to succeed in the gruelling Tripos exam, which he passed as Third Wrangler in 1907. He was one of the last to experience the traditional competition as the mathematics department was undergoing a major shift in approach. 

Despite Hill placing third, his Tripos coach R. A. Herman recommended that he consider the Civil Service, fearing he would not make the grade as a maths don.  After a frank discussion with his personal tutor, Walter Fletcher, he elected to switch to natural sciences and two years later graduated with a first in physiology.  With another scholarship, he started research in a department where there were ‘more great physiologists there to the square yard than in any other place, before or since; and not only because there were so few square yards.’

Professor Nancy Curtin, “The Nobel Prize science and its legacy”

Nancy Curtin will outline A V Hill’s entry into muscle physiology, the work that led to the award to Hill and Meyerhof of the Nobel Prize for 1922, and scientific legacy of A V’s work.


Professor David Zimmerman, “Hill, Tizard, and the Mobilization of British Science For War, 1933-1940”

The paper will explore the central role played by A V Hill and Sir Henry Tizard in marshalling British scientists to fight the Nazis. The paper begins with Hill’s central role in establishing the Academic Assistance Council to rescue refugee scholars fleeing Hitler. It will then consider Hill’s and Tizard’s work on the Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defence (The Tizard Committee) in the creating of the radar-based air defence system. The paper will examine the crucial importance in Hill’s 1940 mission to North America in laying the groundwork for Tizard’s mission later that summer. Building on Hill’s work, Tizard’s mission established close military technical and the scientific relations with the United States and Canada. Finally, the paper will examine why, after the summer of 1940, the two scientists played a much smaller role in the scientific war.

Professor Paul Weindling, “A V Hill’s support of refugee medical scientists: the assistance of the pharmacologist Hermann/ Hugh Blaschko”

A V Hill was a founder of the Academic Assistance Society in 1933 and remained firmly committed to the support of refugee scientists. As MP for Cambridge University, “A V” was tenacious in their cause, and he also lobbied against discrimination against refugee doctors. The physiologist Hermann Blaschko was an important informant. From 1928 Blaschko worked with Otto Meyerhof at the newly founded Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research, and in 1929 Meyerhof arranged a visit of Blaschko to his fellow Nobel laureate A V’s laboratory. This contact meant Blaschko was supported by the AAC to come to Britain in 1933. Based then with Joseph Barcroft in Cambridge, Hill and Blaschko remained in touch. Blaschko became a naturalised British subject in 1939. This meant that Blaschko lobbied in support of refugee scientists when they were interned, and shipped to Australia and Canada. Even as matters for refugees improved, Blaschko  informed A V of inconsistencies in the recognition of continental medical qualifications that could be raised officially.  Blaschko’s activism thus meant that A V remained well informed about a diversity of problems facing refugee scientists and doctors.

Dr Alison Hill, “Living with my grandfather”

Dr Hill will talk about her recollections of her time with A V Hill, after he and Margaret Hill came to live at Cambridge in 1967.

Black and white portrait photograph of A V Hill, sitting in an armchair
A V Hill at Chaucer Close, Cambridge, c 1977
Colour portrait photograph of Andrew Brown

Dr Andrew Brown

Andrew Brown’s new book “Bound by Muscle” is the fourth biography of notable scientists from the first half of the twentieth century to be published by Oxford University Press.   His previous subjects have been James Chadwick, J. D. Bernal and Jo Rotblat.

Dr Brown trained in medicine in London and worked in the NHS for 12 years before emigrating to the USA.  In addition to clinical work (from which he retired in 2017), he held a fellowship at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. He now lives in Philadelphia and is helping to organize a conference on “The Health of the Oceans” in 2023 as part of a Ben Franklin annual celebration.



Colour photograph of Nancy Curtin, leaning her elbows on a desk

Professor Nancy Curtin

Nancy Curtin’s PhD was done at the University of Pennsylvania, supervised by Prof RE Davies, FRS, on the chemical changes during stretch of active skeletal muscle.  Following this she went to University College London on a Post-doctoral Fellowship from the Muscular Dystrophy Association of America to do a project involving both chemical and heat measurements.  Roger Woledge, who had trained with AV Hill, taught her about thermopiles and measuring heat.  She continued collaborating with Roger working on muscle energetics after her move to Charing Cross Hospital Medical School and later to Imperial College London.  There were also several very productive research visits to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth.  Following retirement, she worked part-time at the Royal Veterinary College, which included a memorable field trip to Botswana where she made heat measurements on wildebeest muscle.



Colour portrait photograph of Alison Hill

Dr Alison Hill

Alison is a public health doctor. She was a director of public health in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes in the 1990s. After that she worked in Oxford as managing director of NHS Solutions for Public Health, an organisation dedicated to making sense of data and evidence.  Her last role was as Public Health England’s Deputy Chief Knowledge Officer. She has had a long-standing interest in the role that cycling can play in improving population health. She is now a cycling activist, chairing Cyclox the cycle campaign group for Oxford. She also chairs the Bikeability Trust which manages the grant for Bikeability training in primary schools in England.



Paul Weindling

Professor Paul Weindling

Paul Weindling is Professor at Oxford Brookes University, and a member of the Leopoldina, German National Academy of Sciences. He researches the life histories of the ca. 28000 victims of coerced experimentation under National Socialism. He is part of a group researching the victims of brain research involving the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft. He was co-president of the Commission of the Université de Strasbourg to research the medical faculty of the Reich University Straßburg 1941-1944. Publications include Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism (1989), Epidemics and Genocide in Eastern Europe 1890-1945 (2000), Nazi Medicine and the Nuremberg Trials: From Medical War Crimes to Informed Consent (2004), John W. Thompson, Psychiatrist in the Shadow of the Holocaust (2010), and Victims and Survivors of Nazi Human Experiments: Science and Suffering in the Holocaust (2014). He is a longstanding Trustee of the Council for At-risk Academics (founded as the AAC). He also researches the 6262 refugees in medicine who came to or through the UK, and is reconstructing the Kindertransport from Vienna to the UK (including the arrival of his mother to be for whom AV and Margaret Hill were guarantors).



Colour photograph of David Zimmerman, standing in front of a bookcase

Professor David Zimmerman

David Zimmerman is Professor of Military History at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. David was born in New York City and grew up in Toronto, Canada. He was educated at the University of Toronto and the University of New Brunswick. He is the author of Coastal Fort: A History of Fort Sullivan, Maine; Britain’s Shield: Radar and the Defeat of the Luftwaffe; Top Secret Exchange: The Tizard Mission and the Scientific War; The Great Naval Battle of Ottawa, and Maritime Command Pacific: The Royal Canadian Navy in the Pacific during the Early Cold War.

Since 2000, Professor Zimmerman has been researching the history of the academic refugee crisis of the 1930s. “Ensnared Between Hitler and Stalin: Refugee Scientists in the USSR”, his first book exploring the fate of scholars forced to flee Germany after Hitler came to power, will be published by the University of Toronto Press in 2022. He is currently working on a broader study of academic forced migration, “Scholars in Flight”.