Prof Rodney Hill

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PROFESSOR Rodney Hill, who has died aged 89, was a leading authority – indeed, one of the first – on how metals behave when subjected to stresses and strains. The science has numerous applications, among them the design of safer cars and stronger buildings.

Rodney Hill was born at Stourton, then a village on the edge of Leeds. In 1949, after being awarded a PhD, he moved to Sheffield to head a new section in the Metal Flow Research Laboratory of the British Iron and Steel Research Association. The publication of The Mathematical Theory of Plasticity the following year established him as the leading authority in the field.

His mother had studied at the famous Leeds School of Art, his father taught history, and he was their only child.

He won a scholarship to Leeds Grammar School where he showed an all-round ability in science, maths, art and English literature.

He played squash and golf, he fenced and was musical, teaching himself to play the piano.

He was a good chess player, and would later represent Cambridge University.

He got there by winning a scholarship to read Mathematics at Pembroke College.

In two years he got a First, and then did war work for the Ordnance Board at Cambridge’s Mathematical Laboratory.

In 1943 he joined a team at Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks, Kent, which later in the war reconstructed a German V-2 rocket from intelligence reports, and estimated its range.

His earlier work at Fort Halstead involved a study of how thick armour plating behaves when hit by high-velocity shells, and this triggered his interest in the mechanics of so-called plastic deformation.

To keep himself refreshed, he took up ballroom dancing, and in 1945 he met Jeanne Wickens whom he married the following year.

After the war, he was seconded by the Ministry of Supply to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge where his expertise in plasticity was sought by engineers in the steel industry.

Then came his PhD and his appointment at Sheffield University.

In 1950 he moved to Bristol University, and three years later, when only 31, he was offered the first professorship in Applied Mathematics at Nottingham University.

Under his leadership, the new department won international recognition as a centre of excellence in its field. In 1961, Professor Hill was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, whose Royal Medal he would win in 1993.

In 1963 he was elected to a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and nine years later the university gave him a personal professorship.

Tall and slim, Professor Rodney Hill was notoriously reserved, shunning social occasions, and he disliked travel.

In 2008 the scientific publishers Elsevier, in collaboration with the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, established the Rodney Hill Prize in his honour. It is a quadrennial award in the field of solid mechanics.

His wife died in 2003, and he is survived by their daughter.