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Terrell L. Hill

by Susan J. Ainsworth
April 21, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 16

Terrell L. Hill, 96, a pioneer in theoretical chemistry and molecular biology, died on Jan. 23 in Eugene, Ore.

Born in Oakland, Calif., Hill received an A.B. in biochemistry in 1939 and a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1942, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

He was an assistant professor at the University of Rochester from 1946 until 1949, when he went to work as a chemist at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Md., until 1957. He then served as a professor at the University of Oregon, where he founded its Institute of Molecular Biology.

In 1967, Hill became a professor at UC Santa Cruz, also serving as vice provost for one year. In 1971, he returned to Bethesda to serve as chief of the Section on Theoretical Molecular Biology in NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases until his retirement in 1988.

In his research, Hill was the first to apply statistical mechanics to physical adsorption. He originated the field of small-system thermodynamics, which he used to model molecular aggregates and polymers. In addition, he introduced a general diagram method for the study of steady-state kinetics and used it to advance the principles of free-energy transduction in biological systems. He also combined statistical mechanics and biochemical kinetics to develop a theory of muscle contraction and ciliary motion.

Hill published 258 articles and authored nine books. Dover Publications reprinted four of the books, including “An Introduction to Statistical Thermodynamics,” which was first published in 1960 and is still revered for its completeness and clarity. Hill was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1940.

He wrote poetry, was a semiprofessional basketball player in the early 1940s, and was skilled at tennis, playing singles regularly until he was nearly 80 and often defeating players half his age.

Hill’s wife of 71 years, Laura, preceded him in death by about two months. Hill is survived by his son, Ernie; daughters Julie Eden and Lynn Lineburg; five grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. His daughter Terry died as an infant.

Obituary notices of no more than 300 words may be sent to Susan J. Ainsworth at and should include an educational and professional history.



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