October 2012

Robert L. Hill retires as JBC associate editor after nearly five decades of service


Bob Hill assumed many leadership positions in biochemistry and was recognized with numerous honors and awards:
  • • In 1969, he was named the James B. Duke professor of biochemistry and in 1974 the chairman of the biochemistry department at Duke University, a position he held until 1993. During the nearly 20 years of his chairmanship, the department became one of the best in the world.
  • • He was secretary of the American Society of Biological Chemistry from 1972 to 1975 and president in 1976.
  • • He served on the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology board from 1972 to 1978.
  • • He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975, the Institute of Medicine in 1978, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974.
  • • He served as general secretary of the International Union of Biochemistry from 1982 to 1991.
  • • He chaired the organizing committee of the very successful 17th International Congress of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in San Francisco in 1997. He received the William C. Rose Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1991, the North Carolina Gold Medal (for science) in 1985 and the Karl Meyer Award from the Society for Glycobiology in 2001.

Photo of Robert L. HillRobert L. “Bob” Hill, a Journal of Biological Chemistry associate editor whose long tenure coincided with the journal’s exponential growth and its ascent to become the best in its field, retired last month after almost five decades of editorial service. Hill is credited with overhauling how the JBC recruits editorial board members and with curating a popular series of JBC articles that highlight groundbreaking work found in the journal’s archives.

Hill joined the editorial board of the JBC in 1965 and served a second term from 1972 to 1977. He became an associate editor in 1988. His tenure spanned 47 years and was one of the longest editorial services in the journal’s history — and nearly as remarkable as that of former Editor-in-Chief and current Co-Editor Herbert Tabor, who first joined the editorial board in 1961.

A renowned scientist and respected mentor
Born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1928, Hill earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1949 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1954, both from the University of Kansas. He then went on, as a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow, to work under Emil L. Smith, a pioneer in protein chemistry, at the University of Utah.

Hill’s postdoctoral studies with Smith introduced him to protein chemistry and enzymology research, areas he has pursued over his entire career. Hill remained at the University of Utah as a faculty member of the biochemistry department until 1961, when he joined the faculty of the Duke University School of Medicine, where he remains.

After arriving at Duke, Hill established one of the most highly regarded protein/enzyme chemistry labs in the world and did work on a range of proteins: abnormal hemoglobins, blood-coagulation proteins, immunoglobulins, lysozyme, acyl carrier protein and, most notably, lactose synthase. His work on glycosytransferases and other glycobiology problems identified him as a glycobiologist.

Beyond Hill’s research accomplishments, he also provided a fertile training ground for countless graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have become leaders in biochemistry research.


Classics photo of Robert L. HillBob Hill was a co-curator of the JBC Classic articles for many years. In 2006, the feature highlighted three of his own papers:
See all the Classics at www.jbc.org/content/by/section/Classics.

A visionary and reformer for the journal
Hill’s primary role at JBC was to review and manage the review of papers on all aspects of protein chemistry, blood coagulation and especially glycobiology. He brought good judgment, strong values and high standards to the editorial process and made the JBC a premier place to publish papers in these important research areas.

Beyond editorial work, Hill made many other contributions to the JBC. He recognized that the editorial board is the heart of the journal, and, as the size of the board began to increase to keep pace with the exponential growth in the number of papers submitted, he transformed the process of selecting new board members from what had largely been an ad hoc process to one with rigorous review of prospective candidates.

With a current board of about 800 members serving staggered five-year terms, it is necessary to identify and recruit about 150 new board members each year. Hill established criteria that required the collection of curricula vitae from candidates, thereby ensuring that each new member had the experience, accomplishments, respect and judgment to provide the credible peer review for which the JBC is known.


Cover of The Journal of Biological ChemistryDuring Bob Hill’s long tenure, the JBC clearly established itself as the premier journal of biochemistry in the world.
  • • The number of papers published annually increased to a peak of 6,434 in 2004 from 600 in 1965.
  • • The size of the editorial board increased to 833 in 2012 from 41 in 1965.
  • • The number of associate editors increased to 28 in 2012 from three in 1965.

A serious conservator of science history
Importantly, Hill also helped initiate and sustain a popular JBC feature called Classics. In this feature, landmark papers published in the JBC, including many seminal contributions that led to Nobel prizes, are reprinted along with brief biographical information about the authors.

Thus far, nearly 250 Classics have been published featuring more than 500 papers published since the JBC began in 1905. These articles trace a remarkable history of biochemistry in which the JBC played a central role.

Hill’s role with Classics was to identify appropriate research areas and the key JBC papers and to oversee the preparation of the description of the time and context of the research. Given Hill’s own remarkable research career, he knew many of the authors of the Classics and was able to contribute behind-the-scenes and personal insights about the work, the authors and the times. All his insights were interesting, and a few were even suitable for publication!

Collections of JBC Classics are available online, and many biochemists have reported that they are useful for teaching biochemistry.

A man deserving of our thanks and more
Hill’s career as a scientist, science leader and journal editor has been remarkable. The JBC and the field of biochemistry owe him great thanks, and we will miss his wise counsel.


*This article was written by JBC Associate Editor Robert Simoni on behalf of and in consultation with the journal leadership, including Editor-in-Chief Martha J. Fedor, Co-Editor Herbert Tabor and Associate Editors Norma Allewell, Ruma Banerjee, Judith S. Bond, George M. Carman, Joan W. Conaway, Peter Cresswell, John Exton, Paul E. Fraser, Joel Gottesfeld, F. Peter Guengerich, Richard W. Hanson, Gerald W. Hart, Vincent Hascall, John M. Kyriakis, I. Robert Lehman, Jerry Lingrel, Kenneth E. Neet, Luke O’Neill, Charles E. Samuel, James Siedow, William Smith, Linda Spremulli, F. Anne Stephenson, James T. Stull, Thomas Vanaman and Xiao-Fan Wang. We thank Jeanne Gladfelter, a longtime JBC staff member, for gathering the data included in the article.

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